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9/11 health bill backers unveil badge exhibit

WASHINGTON - Backers of a bill to aid workers who became sick after working in the World Trade Center's ruins unveiled police badges that they hope will help build support for the bill's passage before the lame duck session of Congress adjourns.

"These badges are much more than a symbol of the men and women we've lost," said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) of the 29 replica badges of NYPD members who died of 9/11-related illnesses after working at Ground Zero. "These shields should serve as a call to action."

Police Commissioner Ray Kelly joined Gillibrand and other New York lawmakers in urging support for the measure that would provide up to $7.4 billion in free health care and compensation to those workers.

The bill passed the House in September, but it could die unless the Senate approves it before departing this year. Backers worry it could face a tougher fight in the new, more fiscally conservative Congress.

"This is our last, best chance to pass this bill," said Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Manhattan).

Gillibrand said she's optimistic proponents can win two Republican votes along with the support of all Senate Democrats. That would be enough votes to break any filibuster and pass the bill.

GOP critics have branded the bill as a big-government program that would boost taxes and kill jobs. - AP

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