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.
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."
Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Roslyn Heights) lauded the emergency responders and workers, saying, "This is just a down payment for your effort."
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.
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.
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."
-- 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.
-- Gillibrand and other backers have dicussed attaching the measure as an amendment to another bill or piece of legislation.
- Tom Brune