WASHINGTON -- In a significant step forward for the renewal of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee Wednesday agreed to back a permanent extension of its expired health program, according to Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford).
But King said "there is still a long way to go" because the Zadroga-reauthorization bill must pass out of that committee and three other key committees. It also must secure agreement from Republican leaders in the House and Senate on a way to pay for it and a path to win congressional approval.
The legislation has more than 250 House co-sponsors and 66 Senate co-sponsors -- more than needed to pass -- but it lacks the backing of the majority of the Republicans in both the House and in the Senate, a hurdle it must overcome.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-Manhattan) Wednesday also asked the House-Senate conference committee working to resolve differences in their versions of the transportation reauthorization bill to attach the Zadroga renewal to that legislation for passage.
But House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is not expected to bring any Zadroga-renewal bill up for a vote until it is approved by the two House committees that have jurisdiction over it.
Yesterday's development, though not an official vote, represents positive movement by one those House panels: the Energy and Commerce Committee, chaired by Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), which oversees the act's World Trade Health Center Program.
When Upton met with his Republican members to discuss whether to extend the Zadroga health program for another five or 10 years, King said that instead, "They agreed it should be permanent."
A committee press aide said, "We met with our members today to seek their input and guidance. The next step is for us to consult with our leadership about the best path forward about how to address this issue," including how to pay for it.
New York City Uniformed Fire Officers Association president James Lemonda, whose members went to Washington on Tuesday to lobby lawmakers, said of the development: "It is a relief in the sense that we seem to be making positive progress."
King said New York Reps. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) and Dan Donovan (R-Staten Island) will join him in meeting Thursday with Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, the other key House panel, which oversees the act's Victim Compensation Fund.
Goodlatte supports a rival Zadroga bill that would reauthorize the fund for just five years and expand it to include victims of other acts of terrorism against Americans, such as the 1998 bombing of two American embassies in Africa.
King and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), the key sponsor of the Zadroga reauthorization in the Senate, said they have no problem with expanding the compensation program to other terrorism victims, but oppose another five-year sunset provision.
Meanwhile, Gillibrand and other backers of the Zadroga-renewal bill are awaiting action from the two key Senate panels -- the Judiciary Committee and the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
With Emily Ngo