Workers survey the ruins of the World Trade Center in...

Workers survey the ruins of the World Trade Center in Manhattan, as cleanup and searching for victims continued. (Oct. 2, 2001) Credit: AP

WASHINGTON - After a frustrating and often partisan legislative struggle, the full House passed the Zadroga 9/11 health care bill Wednesday, bringing cheers from uniformed police and other first responders watching from the galleries.

"The bill is passed," said the clerk of the House, announcing a 268-160 vote as the New Yorkers who bused in for the vote came to their feet and their members of Congress turned and applauded the men and women they described in debate as the "heroes of 9/11."

"I was so overjoyed when that bill passed today that I had tears in my eyes," said Joe Zadroga, father of the bill's namesake, Det. James Zadroga, who died in 2006 at age 34.

The $7.4-billion measure, intended to care for ailing emergency responders and workers at Ground Zero as well as nearby residents, now goes to the Senate, which is expected to take it up after the Nov. 2 election. If the Senate does not also approve the bill, its backers must start all over again in the next Congress.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), the measure's Senate sponsor, said, "I'm working closely with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to bring the bill to a vote in the Senate."

Its fate there remains uncertain. Backers say they are working to win Republican support to get the 60 votes needed to get past a GOP filibuster.

President Barack Obama last night issued a statement lauding the House action.

"I look forward to Congress completing consideration of this legislation so I can sign it into law."

After yesterday's vote, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and New York lawmakers crowded into a meeting room with dozens of first responders and workers at Ground Zero to celebrate the victory.

Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Roslyn Heights) lauded the emergency responders and workers, saying, "This is just a down payment for your effort."

The bill passed largely along partisan lines, with most Democrats supporting it but only 17 Republicans voting yes.

The bill picked up more votes than in July, when it failed after it was brought up under rules requiring a two-thirds vote to pass.

House Democratic leaders brought the bill to the floor Wednesday with some trepidation, fearing that Republicans might attach an amendment barring illegal immigrants from participating in the benefits.

That would be a deal killer, Democrats said, because that would be a difficult vote for skittish Democrats members in conservative districts.

Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), the bill's key backer in the GOP, said he worked with his leadership and Pelosi to make sure an immigration amendment was not offered.

A breakthrough came, King said, when House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) met with Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently.

But it wasn't until upstate New York Republican Rep. Chris Lee stood up to offer an amendment after the hourlong debate seeking to repeal parts of the health care overhaul and restrict medical malpractice lawsuits that New York lawmakers saw the deal had held.

The amendment lost in a 244-185 vote, clearing the way for the final vote.

All members of the Long Island delegation - Ackerman, King, Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-Mineola) and Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington) - voted yes. Lee was the only New York representative to vote no.

John Feal, founder of the FealGood Foundation of Nesconset that assists those harmed by 9/11, said: "This is just a short-term victory. We've got a lot of work left. People's lives depend on it."

 

 

What's next

 

-- The Zadroga Bill now goes to the U.S. Senate, where Democrats say they will bring it up after the Nov. 2 elections.

-- The bill faces at least two key obstacles: It probably will need 60 votes to get past a GOP filibuster, and it includes a tax on overseas companies the House measure relies on to pay for the $7.4-billion cost that some senators reject.

-- Rep. Pete King (R-Seaford) and other New York lawmakers say they have contacted moderate Republican senators, including Susan Collins of Maine and Scott Brown of Massachusetts, in an effort to gather support.

-- The Senate version of the bill, sponsored by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), is still in the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.

-- Gillibrand and other backers have dicussed attaching the measure as an amendment to another bill or piece of legislation.

- Tom Brune

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