WASHINGTON — Rep. Peter King, other New York members of Congress and comedian Jon Stewart denounced as “downright irresponsible” a Trump administration proposal that would change the leadership of a federal health program that provides aid to 9/11 first responders.
At a Monday news conference in front of the U.S. Capitol, King (R-Seaford), Stewart and Democratic Reps. Carolyn Maloney and Jerrold Nadler stood alongside first responders and urged Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney to withdraw what they called an “ill-thought-out proposal” to separate the World Trade Center Health Program, which provides free health care to 9/11 first responders, from the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, which currently administers the program.
Mulvaney, in the White House’s 2019 budget proposal, outlined a plan to shift the health program to fall under the oversight of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. OMB officials in a conference call with reporters on Monday said the move was designed as part of a broader agency realignment, and argued the change would not change funding levels or “upset services.” But King and others argued the changes would indeed have a detrimental impact.
“This was a backdoor attempt to kill a program . . . to hurt a program which is doing so much good for so many,” King said at the news conference, where he and lawmakers vowed to ensure the proposal would never pass through Congress.
In a follow-up phone interview, King, who co-sponsored the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act legislation with Maloney and Nadler which created the health program, said originally placing the initiative under the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health was intentional, because the institute’s doctors and researchers were better equipped to handle the varying illnesses experienced by those first responders who spent days amid the toxic rubble of Ground Zero.
“If they go over to the CDC . . . they’re not going to have access to all that institutional knowledge, all those doctors, all those scientists that they’ve been used to all along,” King said of the Sept. 11 victims receiving health treatment.
Stewart, who long championed the Zadroga legislation when he served as host of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” said Mulvaney’s desire to rework a program that has not fielded any criticism demonstrates “a special kind of incompetence.”