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Angry 9/11 first responders to hold rally in Washington to urge extension of Zadroga Act

Washington - New York’s 9/11 first responders, angry at a delay in Congress’ passing an extension of the Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, plan a rally at the Capitol Thursday as lawmakers continue negotiations over the act’s renewal.

With the legislative clock ticking down and just nine working days left before Congress leaves for the year, key members of Congress seeking passage of the Zadroga extension said Wednesday they are still trying to come up with a way to pay for it and pass it.

In a sign of some progress, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) Wednesday issued a release calling for the permanent extension of the act’s World Trade Center Health Program and listed six ways to pay for it.

Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) called that release “an extremely positive sign.”

But House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) has called for a five-year limit on the extension of the act’s victim’s compensation fund, and has not issued any further public statements on that program.

Supporters of Zadroga’s renewal were fuming on Wednesday and scrambling to determine their next step after the plan to include the extension measure in the federal transportation bill was dashed earlier this week.

First responders who came to Washington on Monday to lobby lawmakers finalizing the transportation legislation reacted angrily when the Zadroga measure was excluded from that bill.

Democrats charged that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) blocked the Zadroga measure from being added to the transportation bill after they rejected his demand that they agree to also include in the bill his provision to lift the oil export ban.

McConnell’s aides denied he took that step, and said the Zadroga bill is still being negotiated.

But angry first responders descended on McConnell’s office Wednesday to protest what they called his attempt to use the Zadroga Act as a bargaining chip.

“We had a very heated and passionate meeting this morning” at McConnell’s office, John Feal, an advocate for the act’s permanent extension, said Wednesday. “He held our bill hostage. It’s deplorable.”

McConnell spokesman Don Stewart in an email confirmed the meeting took place.

“Our chief of staff met with the group and gave them an update on the progress of the bill,” Stewart wrote.

Stewart also cited Upton’s proposal to pay for extending the health program without any time limits. “If that is accepted, the bill can be finalized,” he said.

But it is unlikely Democrats will accept Upton’s proposals, which include significant changes to Medicare and Medicaid.

“It’s going to be up to Sen. McConnell to figure out a way to get this done,” said Benjamin Chevat, executive director of Citizens for the Extension of the James Zadroga Act.

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