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Fate of 9/11 health bill remains uncertain

Rescue workers and volunteers remove debris at the

Rescue workers and volunteers remove debris at the World Trade Center. (Sept. 13, 2001) Credit: Newsday / Jiro Ose

WASHINGTON - The Senate on Wednesday postponed a vote to end a GOP filibuster of the $7.4-billion Zadroga 9/11 health bill until Thursday, but prospects for success in ending the filibuster appear doubtful in the face of solid Republican opposition.

The Zadroga bill and an immigration measure known as the DREAM Act were put off until Thursday after the Senate failed to pass two other filibuster-ending motions needing 60 votes when all 42 GOP senators voted no as a bloc.

The GOP bloc won't approve anything until after Congress first passes the Bush tax cut extensions and government funding, said Don Stewart, an aide to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)

That makes it unlikely the GOP will vote Thursday for the Zadroga bill's filibuster-ending cloture motion, unless the bill's Senate sponsors can work out a deal with Republican leaders.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who has said she's close to getting the last of 60 votes needed to end the filibuster on the Zadroga bill, declined to comment Wednesday.

A defeat of the motion Thursday would not mean the long-awaited Zadroga bill is dead, the measure's backers said.

Gillibrand is expected to seek another cloture motion after Congress finishes with the Bush tax cuts and a continuing resolution to fund the government into next year.

At that time, the bill's backers say, they expect it will be easier to win the votes of the dozen Republican senators still wavering on whether to support the measure to help those ailing from exposure to the toxic debris of 9/11 with care and compensation.

But the opportunity to bring up the bill again may not be until next week or later.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he might bring up the controversial tax deal between President Barack Obama and the Republican leaders as soon as Thursday, but it will take days to work through the Senate process.

Earlier Wednesday, the Obama administration threw its support behind the Zadroga bill, saying Obama looks forward to signing it "to help those whose health and livelihoods were devastated by the events of Sept. 11, 2001."

And Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) took to the Senate floor Wednesday to urge Republican colleagues not to hold up the Zadroga bill.

"It is unfair and it is not right to say, 'We will not remember these people who volunteered and risked their lives to protect our freedom in a time of war, we will not help them until X or Y or Z gets done,' " he said.

"It is also time for those who are against this bill to stop spreading lies about it," he added, denying GOP claims the bill invites fraud.

This isn't the first setback Congress has dealt the Zadroga bill. Amid a shouting match, it fell short of the votes needed in August. A month later, Democrats and Republicans reached an agreement that allowed the House to pass the bill 268 to 160, with 17 Republicans joining Democrats in voting yes.

But after two days of politics and arcane Senate procedure on Capitol Hill this week, a busload of exasperated and weary 9/11 first responders, survivors and labor union supporters left here to go back home.

"We're getting out of here," said Glenn Klein of the Feal Good Foundation, who helped organize this week's citizen lobbying.

As the New Yorkers waited in the dark and blustery cold for their bus to take them home, he said, "There's nothing to stay for."

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