WASHINGTON - First responders to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks who say they were made sick with respiratory problems and cancers after their work on the smoldering pile at Ground Zero hope that decision day is here.
Nine years after they turned out on the pile, responders Wednesday expect to witness a vote in the U.S. Senate on legislation that would grant them health benefits. They believe there are enough votes in the Senate to pass the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, which would cover a decade of health care and cost taxpayers $6.2 billion.
Cynthia George, of North Babylon, traveled to Washington Tuesday with her 20-month-old granddaughter, Giovanna George, for a news conference with Schumer and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.).
George's husband, Kenneth, 46, was a first responder who suffers from pulmonary and lung ailments.
"How could they be so heartless?" Cynthia George said about senators who oppose the legislation.
Wendy Flammia, of Miller Place, also at the news conference, showed reporters a photograph of a friend, New York City firefighter John McNamara, of Blue Point, who died in August 2009 from colon cancer she believes is connected to his time at the pile.
"They need the health care," said Flammia.
, supporters of the legislation were waiting for the attention of the Senate, which first was debating the New Start Treaty before considering the 9/11 health care bill.
Members of the FealGood Foundation, a nonprofit group that advocates for health care for Ground Zero survivors, walked the halls of the Russell Senate Office Building hoping to visit with senators to win support. They met only staffers.
As they left the Senate building, they sang God Bless America.
"I have a lot of faith," said Ann Marie Baumann, of Lindenhurst, whose husband suffers from respiratory problems after working on the Ground Zero pile.
But several expressed anger at comments by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.). In a policy statement posted on his website, Coburn said the 9/11 bill "creates an expansive new health care entitlement program." The legislation provides "overly generous funding, failing to acknowledge public and private benefits and past compensation," Coburn said.
Proponents of the bill need 60 votes to break a Republican filibuster. This week, Schumer and Gillibrand announced a revised bill meant to attract more GOP support. The reworked legislation shifts the cost of funding the responders' health care and compensation from a corporate tax to an excise tax on government purchase of material overseas. Also, the cost of the legislation was reduced from $7.4 billion to $6.2 billion over 10 years.
"It has taken nine years to get to this point," Gillibrand said . "It's my hope that the men and women here today are at the finish line."The revised Senate bill, if it passes, would still have to go to the House before the end of the session.The legislation is named for a police detective who worked on rescue efforts at Ground Zero and died in January 2006 after suffering breathing complications.