A federal omnibus spending bill leaves out money for the World Trade Center Health Program. NewsdayTV's Steve Langford reports. UPDATE: After this video was published, lawmakers agreed to add $1 B to the spending bill to cover a funding shortfall after negotiators unexpectedly left out the original $3.6 billion measure. Credit: Kendall Rodriguez Newsday file; AP

WASHINGTON — Congressional leaders early Tuesday unveiled a $1.7 trillion spending bill to fund the government to end of the fiscal year, but they also cut a measure to cover the World Trade Center Health Program’s looming funding gap. 

Missing from the 4,155-page omnibus package posted at 1:30 a.m. Tuesday was $3.6 billion to cover a projected funding shortfall, beginning in October 2024, caused by inflation and greater participation than originally projected for the World Trade Center Health Program.

“This is a real disappointment for the injured 9/11 responders and survivors who depend on this program, given the assurances we had received that this would be in the omnibus,” said Ben Chevat, executive director of Citizens for the Extension of the James Zadroga Act.

The massive spending bill to fund federal government operations for the rest of the fiscal year ending next October emerged from intense negotiations and includes $858 billion in defense spending and $772 billion for nondefense discretionary programs.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Congressional leaders cut a measure to cover the World Trade Center Health Program’s looming funding gap from the $1.7 trillion government spending bill that must pass this week.
  • Missing from the omnibus package was $3.6 billion to cover a projected funding shortfall, beginning in October 2024, caused by inflation and greater participation than projected for the World Trade Center Health Program.
  • The massive spending bill would fund federal government operations for the rest of the fiscal year includes $858 billion in defense spending and $772 billion for nondefense discretionary programs.

Money for New York

It contains money for New York, including access to an $800 fund for emergencies such as New York City’s immigrant asylum crisis, $5 billion in for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program and at least $147 million in Long Island community project earmarks.

Also in the package for Suffolk County is $18.2 million for drinking water and sewer system upgrades and $8.45 million for infrastructure projects.

For Nassau County, there is $9.45 million for drinking water and wastewater projects, an aide to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said.

Congress must pass the omnibus by midnight Friday, when a short-term funding bill enacted last week expires, to avoid a partial shutdown of government.

Battle expected in Senate

The biggest battle will be in the Senate, where Democrats need 10 Republicans to join them in passing the package, over the objections of five Senate Republicans who oppose it.

Schumer and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Tuesday urged senators to vote for the omnibus.

Schumer acknowledged the omission of 9/11 health funds as he touted money in the bill for improvements in health and mental health care, opioid crisis programs, senior housing and care for burn-pit victims.

Schumer also hailed inclusion in the package of the Electoral Count Act to avoid another attempt to use obscure language in current law to try to overturn a presidential election.

“The bill is a big step forward,” Schumer told reporters. “But it doesn’t include everything we wanted. McConnell blocked a lot of things, things I cared about, like 9/11 health — he just said ‘no’ at the end.”

GOP objections to 9/11 health care money

McConnell did not address the health program, created by Congress in 2010 with the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, and extended in 2015 to 2090.

But a McConnell spokesman said: “Senator Schumer had an entire Congress to offer 9/11 victim legislation on the floor. Instead, he waited until the last possible moment to propose the current deal after negotiations were long closed out.”

Rep. Andrew Garbarino (R-Bayport), the House sponsor of the 9/11 health care bill, said all New York Republican House members backed it and had considered it a done deal.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), the top Senate top of the health care funding, said she was deeply disappointed it wasn't included in the omnibus bill.

The bill’s other sponsors have tried unsuccessfully this session of Congress to pass the measure in a stand-alone vote, or to attach it to the $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation bill in 2021 or the stymied $2 trillion Build Back Better package.

“Apparently, this was something that Chuck fought very hard for, but Mitch McConnell blocked it in the final hour,” Gillibrand told Newsday.

“The Republicans gave him a list of things they would not support moving forward and the 9/11 health bill was on that list,” she said. “We don't know who in the Republican Party put forward this block.”

Gillibrand said she would try in the next 24 hours to offer a unanimous consent motion to pass the bill to see who votes against it, so she can reach out to whoever opposes it.

If that fails, she said next year “I will introduce it as a stand-alone bill and ask for an up-or-down vote.”

Chevat said, “What the Senate is saying is that they will only do the right thing if injured and ill 911 responders and survivors come to Washington and walk their hallways to demand action.”

John Feal, the 9/11 responder and founder of the Feal Good Foundation, who has lobbied Congress for 9/11 health aid, responded angrily to the news that the package omitted the funds, tweeting, “I am in the mood for a fight. And I am about to make people miserable.”

SPENDING BILL HIGHLIGHTS

  • Total of $858 billion in defense spending and $772 billion for nondefense discretionary programs.
  • New York gets access to an $800 million fund for emergencies, including the immigrant asylum crisis.
  • Long Island gets at least $147 million in community project earmarks.
  • Suffolk County receives $18.2 million for drinking water and sewer system upgrades and $8.45 million for infrastructure projects.
  • Nassau County gets $9.45 million for drinking water and wastewater projects.
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