Congress rejects Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act as GOP members balk at billBy Michael Mcauliff
July 30, 2010
WASHINGTON - Congress turned thumbs down on the Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act on Thursday night, raising doubts it will ever pass.
Most Republicans refused to back the measure, calling it a "slush fund," and saying it was another example of Democratic overreach and an "insatiable" appetite for taxpayers' money.
The bill would spend $3.2 billion on health care over the next 10 years for people sickened from their exposure to the toxic smoke and debris of the shattered World Trade Center. It would spend another $4.2 billion to compensate victims over that span, and make another $4.2 billion in compensation available for the next 11 years.
"This legislation as written creates a huge $8.4 billion slush fund paid by taxpayers that is open to abuse, fraud and waste," said Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), arguing that it would be raided by undeserving scammers with tenuous links to 9/11.
Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) cast it as a money grab for New York because the bill would pay for care at higher rates than Medicare. "What this is is politics," Shimkus said. "What this is is enfranchising a bunch of New York City hospitals."
"This fund is bloated," said Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.).
Texas Republican Joe Barton, leading debate for his side, said the GOP would back a smaller program, such as the $150 million a year the White House would like to spend. But he said the rest of the country should not bear the brunt of helping New Yorkers cope with the aftermath of the terror attacks.
"We support it, without raising taxes on the rest of the American people," said Barton (R-Texas), who recently won infamy by apologizing to BP.
The measure is paid for by closing tax loopholes on foreign subsidiaries that do business in the United States, which the GOP also opposed, saying it was a tax hike on foreign companies that hire Americans.
Democrats would have been able to pass the bill if they used the normal procedure, but they brought it up as a "suspension bill," which needs a two-thirds vote to pass because it can't be amended. Democrats feared the GOP would attach poison pills to the bill.
It failed 255 to 159, with just 12 Republicans backing it.
The procedural move infuriated the few Republicans who voted yes, with Rep. Pete King (R-L.I.) calling it "a cruel hoax and a charade," suggesting Democrats want to use the failure to hammer the GOP in November. "This bill should be more important than a campaign talking point," he fumed.
Mayor Bloomberg slammed the failure, calling it "outrageous," and blaming both sides.
"It was wrong for the overwhelming majority of Republicans to vote against the bill, and it was wrong for Democrats to bring the bill to the floor under rules that made passage so much more difficult," he said.
Democrats savaged the other side, saying they were turning their backs on heroes to protect foreign tax cheats, and said it really shouldn't matter how the country pays to take care of people who answered the call from all over the nation, and are sick now.
"Many of these people are losing their lives," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. "They certainly have lost their health. And we owe them."
Democrats vowed they would try again, after Congress' summer vacation.
"The 255 votes in favor of the Zadroga Act tonight show that we can and should pass this bill under normal rules when Congress reconvenes," said Rep. Carolyn Maloney.
Still, 9/11 advocates fear there simply will not be enough time, and it could be even harder to pass the bill next year if Democrats lose seats, as expected. The Senate has not begun to finish its version.
"If we can't do this now, I don't know if we ever will," said the Rev. Bill Minson, of the TUDAY Ministries.