GOP senators block vote on 9/11 health bill

Firefighters make their way through rubble after terrorists Firefighters make their way through rubble after terrorists crashed two airliners into the World Trade Centers in New York City. (Sept. 11, 2001) Photo Credit: AP

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WASHINGTON - Republicans Thursday dealt a blow to the prospect that the Zadroga 9/11 health bill will be enacted this year, but its deeply disappointed Democratic sponsors vowed to "pursue every route" to still win Senate approval.

The Zadroga Act remained in limbo after 41 GOP senators Thursday voted to prevent it from being brought to the Senate floor. It would then face a debate and need a majority to pass.

Republicans said they would block Zadroga and all other bills until Congress approves the Bush tax cut extension and a government spending bill.

After the 57-42 vote fell short of the 60 votes needed to end the filibuster, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) lashed out at GOP colleagues, calling their vote "morally reprehensible.

"This was a vote where politics was put above people," she said. "And frankly it's what's wrong with Washington."

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Mayor Michael Bloomberg called it a "devastating indictment of Washington politics." Retired New York police detective Glen Klein, a 9/11 first responder said, "We are all very upset by this."

Gillbrand said she'll try to find the two GOP votes needed to let the Senate take up the bill. "We all will continue our efforts with Republican colleagues to find those few who will stand with us," she said.

The bill's House sponsors, Manhattan Democratic Reps. Carolyn Maloney and Jerrold Nadler, will hold a rally Friday at Ground Zero to urge Senate Republicans to end their filibuster.

Maloney also sent a letter signed by 59 members of Congress to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) asking her to attach the Zadroga Act as an amendment to the tax cut package. "If Senate Republicans are refusing even to debate the Zadroga Act," she said, "we should attach it to a measure they won't ignore: extending the Bush tax cuts."

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he's open to the idea, but he's not sure amendments will be allowed on the tax cut bill. Still, he insisted the Zadroga Act has "a shot" at passing.

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he'd try to bring up the measure again, after Congress deals with the tax cuts. He voted "no" yesterday so he could - under Senate rules - recall it later.

But time is running short - Congressional leaders are hoping to end the lame duck session by the end of next week - and the agenda is crowded.

Thursday's Senate vote represented another setback for the $7.4 billion measure that would ensure 10 years of health care for responders and survivors ailing from toxic 9/11 debris and air.

After much wrangling, and some shouting, the bill passed in the House in September. But the bill stalled in the Senate, blocked by Republicans opposed to its cost and funding by closing a tax loophole.

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If Zadroga doesn't pass this year, it will face a harder road next year because Republicans will control the House.

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Gillibrand choked up as she implored the Senate Tuesday to move ahead on Zadroga Act. Thursday, she was indignant.

"This was one of those cynical votes in Washington that come down to the very fact that people were too concerned about tax rates for millionaires and billionaires to do what was right," she said.

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