Dems fear absentees will kill 9/11 billBy: Simmi Aujla
December 22, 2010
An intense lobbying effort by New York Democrats on a bill to help Sept. 11 responders paid off late Tuesday, when House leaders promised to stay in session Wednesday to approve any Senate changes to the measure.
The Democrats worried Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) would delay a vote on the measure, which would give health insurance and benefits to people who helped victims of the Sept. 11 attacks. They launched an aggressive counter offense, with one member calling on President Barack Obama to step in and help.
But the bill, which will be the last measure House Democrats approve in the majority, is still far from a done deal, as it isn't clear if there will be enough House Democrats in town to pass it.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said late Tuesday that the House will stick around on Wednesday to approve a Senate version of the measure, after first being unwilling to commit to staying in town for the bill.
But a spokeswoman for House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) said Clyburn expects some members to be absent tomorrow.
Both Reps. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) and Pete King, the most vocal Republican supporter of the bill, said that if it isn't passed Wednesday, it doesn't have a chance.
"Leadership is frankly concerned that if it goes too long, people will leave" Nadler said. "But they're trying to expedite the process."
"It's going to be hard to keep people around tonight and tomorrow," King said. "That's a real issue at this point."
Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), the bill's primary sponsor, told POLITICO that she'd stay in town right up to the first day of the next Congress to make sure the bill's passed. And after White House press secretary Robert Gibbs joked that Daily Show host Jon Stewart should pressure Republicans to support the measure, Maloney released a fiery statement calling for Obama to step it up.
"Jon Stewart has done his part for the 9/11 health bill - now it's the president's turn to speak up and get personally involved in the effort to pass the legislation," she said. "President Obama should use the bully pulpit of the presidency to urge the Senate Republican leadership not to try to run out the clock on this bill."
Maloney, Rep. Anthony Weiner, and other New York Democrats pressured Hoyer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to make sure the House, which passed the bill in September, wouldn't adjourn before approving Senate changes to the measure. And Rep. Pete King, the only Republican co-sponsor, lobbied Senate Republicans on the measure.
Hoyer said the bill was important enough to stay in town another day.
"I would be asking all of you to stay tonight and be here tomorrow so that we can convene and do this very, very important business which is not just important to the New Yorkers. This is important to our country," he said on the floor, while members listened attentively.
A senior House Democratic aide said the ball was in the Senate's court.
"We are still discussing the best path forward on this important legislation but our ability to pass this legislation hinges on the Senate acting and acting quickly," the aide said. The aide declined to say whether the House would stay in town on Thursday for the measure if necessary.
Coburn continued hammering the bill Tuesday, releasing a six-page memo defending himself, saying he isn't "unpatriotic" for his opposition to the measure.
New Yorkers are frustrated that the bill is being left to the last minute, blaming Senate Republicans for the delay.
"You're asking me to make sense out of something that doesn't make sense to me," King said. "I've been banging my head against wall with Republicans on this for years."