First responders, advocates and politicians Friday criticized the defeat in the House this week of the Sept. 11 health bill.
The James Zadroga 9/11 health bill failed to get the required two-thirds majority Thursday night in the House of Representatives under a special voting procedure. Thursday's vote was 255-159. If a simple majority was called for, only 218 votes would have been needed for passage.
"It is despicable and very disheartening," said Sally Regenhard, an advocate for 9/11 families who lost her firefighter son Christian. "These are people we should be thanking and we are kicking them to the curb."
The legislation, named after the late NYPD Det. James Zadroga, would reopen the federal Victims Compensation Fund to provide $7.4 billion to first responders and other workers sickened by the work at the World Trade Center.
"I am outraged that Congress would vote against health care for the heroes of 9/11 and the thousands of others who were exposed to toxins at the World Trade Center site," said State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Democrat. The "vote was a terrible slap in the face to New York."
Others saw what they believed to be the political maneuvering that doomed the vote. "I think they [Democrats] will use this [defeat] as a political tool in the November election," said John Feal, 43, a disabled demolition supervisor from Nesconset. "They are trying to keep their seats in November and they will use us as a pawn."
Shortly before the vote, Reps. Anthony Weiner (D-Forest Hills) and Peter King (R-Seaford) clashed over the two-third passage requirement, with Weiner saying procedure isn't a reason to vote down a bill and King saying the requirement needlessly doomed the bill.
"This bill should not be held hostage to partisan politics," said Dr. Benjamin Luft, 58, head of the Long Island World Trade Center Medical Monitoring and Treatment Program. "The responders went down there unconditionally and they should be helped unconditionally."
That same sentiment was voiced by New York City Patrolmen's Benevolent Association president Patrick Lynch, who said the bill "should be exempt from petty politics from both sides."
Democrats had asked for a special vote requiring two-thirds for passage as a way of preventing Republicans from weighing the bill down with amendments. Democrats said under regular voting rules Republicans could add amendments to make it harder to pass or to force vulnerable Democrats into votes that could haunt them in the fall elections.
The measure will come up for another vote under simple-majority rules when Congress comes back from recess in September, said Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Manhattan), one of the sponsors. While not venting anger over the failed vote, she indicated that she thought forcing a vote requiring such a high hurdle for passage was a setup for failure. "If it had been a majority vote, we would have won," she said.
9/11 SETTLEMENT AGAINST NYC
There is a tentative settlement in the massive lawsuit against New York City. The federal judge in the case and special master Kenneth Feinberg have urged plaintiffs to accept a $713-million proposed settlement.
Ninety-five percent of the plaintiffs must accept it by Sept. 8. The voting trend so far is running at 100 percent of responses, said Manhattan attorney Marc Jay Bern, who is representing many workers. The first checks would start going out by the end of October, he said. Any amounts from the settlement would work as an offset against what the Zadroga bill would pay each plaintiff, he said.
- Anthony M. DeStefano
EXCERPTS FROM THURSDAY'S HOUSE DEBATE
From the House debate Thursday night over a bill to provide up to $7.4 billion in aid to people sickened by toxic dust from the World Trade Center attacks in 2001:
Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) scolded Democrats, saying "The reality is you could pass this bill if you wanted to. You are in control. You have the power. You have the responsibility.
"This bill should be more important than a campaign talking point. You could have passed it ... anytime in the past three-and-a-half years but you want political cover. Thank God for our country that the first responders of 9/11 didn't look for cover before they did what they had to do and lived up to their role."
Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Brooklyn) argued that Republicans were stalling by claiming they might be able to support a bill if it were amended:
"Great courage. To wait until all members have already spoken and then stand up and wrap your arms around procedure. We see it in the United States Senate every single day where members say, 'We want amendments; we want debate, we want amendments - but we're still a no.' And then we stand up and say, 'Oh, if only we had a different process we'd vote yes.' You vote yes if you believe yes. You vote in favor of something if you believe it's the right thing. If you believe it's the wrong thing you vote no. We are following a procedure.