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Zadroga Act extension still facing hurdles

Comedian John Stewart, left, speaks with Sen. Mark

Comedian John Stewart, left, speaks with Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) in the Senate subway on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2015, as he lobbies lawmakers to approve the extension of the James Zadroga Act. Stewart was on Capitol Hill along with New York first responders to call on Congress to fully fund programs that provide health care and compensation to 9/11 first responders and survivors. Credit: xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8" standalone="yes"?>

The renewal of the expiring Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act continued to move forward in Congress on Thursday but still faces the hurdle of reaching an agreement on how to cover its $7 billion cost, activists and lawmakers said.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told 9/11 first responders in a 35-minute meeting Thursday morning that he supports a permanent extension of the act’s health program and $4.6 billion for its victim compensation fund, Zadroga activist John Feal said.

McConnell also said he would add the act’s reauthorization to the omnibus that must pass by the end of next week, but he added that the deal is contingent on finding funding to pay for it, Feal said at a noon Capitol Hill rally.

McConnell spokesman Don Stewart confirmed the meeting took place, but did not confirm the details offered by Feal.

“The leader met with 9/11 first responders this morning, reiterated his support for completing action on the bill and gave them an update on the ongoing negotiations toward completing the bill. He also updated them on possible paths forward on the bill once it’s complete,” Stewart said in an email.

Democrats have rejected Republican proposals for covering the costs, including significant changes to Medicare and Medicaid.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), the chief sponsor of the Zadroga Act renewal in the Senate, said Democrats have offered several possible ways to pay for the federal cost of extending the act’s World Trade Center Health Program, which expired on Oct. 1 but is still operating, and the victim’s compensation fund, which expires Oct. 1 next year.

She and Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) said they are working on resolving the differences on the bill.

At the rally, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) slammed McConnell for pulling the Zadroga renewal measure at the last minute from the federal transportation bill, which is being voted on this week and is expected to easily pass. Schumer said he learned about it at 4 p.m. on Tuesday.

“I am tired of hypocritical political leaders who say, ‘I’ll only do it you trade for this, this and this,’” Schumer said, condemning McConnell’s attempt to use Zadroga as trade bait for his own measures.

Manhattan Democratic Reps. Jerry Nadler and Carolyn Maloney criticized the demand that the act’s backers find funding for the 9/11 bill while at the same time GOP leaders are ushering through Congress an $800 billion bill to reduce taxes without paying for it.

Also speaking at the rally were Reps. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) and Dan Donovan (R-Staten Island), as well as several other members of the House from New York and New Jersey.

Comedian Jon Stewart spoke last, calling it “stupid and embarrassing” that Congress had not already made the Zadroga Act permanent. He acknowledged he can only help the cause by bringing cameras to cover him and “a sense of shame” the measure has not passed.

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