WASHINGTON - The House has rejected a bill that would pay up to $7.4 billion in aid to people sickened by toxic dust from the World Trade Center.

The measure failed Thursday night to win the needed two-thirds majority.

Members of Congress from New York and New Jersey who have pushed for such a measure for years plan to continue pressing for the bill after Congress returns from its August recess.

The legislation is named for James Zadroga, a police detective who died in 2006 at age 34. His supporters say he died from respiratory disease contracted at Ground Zero, but New York City's medical examiner says Zadroga's lung condition was caused by prescription drug abuse.

The Zadroga Act would reopen the original federal Victims Compensation fund. The fund had an original deadline for filing claims of December 2003 and by June 2004 had awarded over $7 billion to families of victims and those injured in the attack.

This week Democratic and Republican supporters traded criticism over the way the bill was being considered under House "suspension calendar" rules requiring a two-thirds majority to pass, instead of the usual simple majority.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), a supporter of the measure, criticized House Democrats for the voting procedure, predicting the bill would fail to get the required two-thirds majority. In letters to King, Democrats including Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-Mineola) and Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Roslyn Heights) responded that if the bill failed, it would be because of a lack of Republican support.

In a letter to Democrats Thursday, King argued that the Democrats' real fear was that if the measure was handled under regular rules requiring a simple majority, some Republicans would put in a provision barring illegal immigrants from getting the benefits. King said the measure would pass if voted on under regular calendar procedures, adding, "we should resolve to get this done before this Congress ends."

If the measure had passed the House, it still would have had to be considered by the Senate, where it could be changed.

More than 10,000 of the first responders and others who toiled at Ground Zero in the aftermath of Sept. 11 have filed suit against the city for injuries they received from the noxious chemical atmosphere that permeated the area in the weeks after the attack.

Plaintiffs in that case are being encouraged by a Manhattan federal judge and others to accept a recent settlement offer that could total $712 million.

@Newsday

Jay Berne, a lawyer representing some of the first responders in the lawsuit, said an amendment to the Zadroga bill would allow benefits to be claimed by first responders and cleanup workers who settled their cases. The proposed law also calls for expanded health monitoring and medical treatment. People living in the area of the World Trade Center who suffered exposure to toxins also would be able to get medical treatment, according to bill sponsors.

With Anthony M. DeStefano