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Congress finally approves 9/11 health care bill

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More than three years after it was originally proposed and with billions of dollars less than what was hoped for, Congress finally passed a 9/11 health bill for first responders at Ground Zero yesterday.

Some supporters of the legislation hailed it as a “Christmas miracle.” Others expressed frustration at the long-winded efforts and intense deal making needed to provide a benefit for the thousands of deserving emergency workers.

“Half a loaf is better than no loaf. But that’s what happens when politics gets involved,” said Joseph Zadroga, whose son, NYPD detective James Zadroga, died of a respiratory disease in 2006 linked to his rescue work at Ground Zero.

The bill, named after James Zadroga, was initially introduced in the House in 2007. The Senate unveiled its version last year with a price tag of $12 billion. After failing to gain much traction, the House approved of a version worth $7.4 billion in September. And when even the scaled-down House bill wasn’t getting the support needed in the Senate, the funds were reduced to $6.2 billion and finally to the $4.2 billion that eventually passed both houses yesterday.

“It’s better than nothing,” said retired NYPD officer Anthony Flammia, who called the bill’s passage a “bittersweet victory” after so many years.

“It was the art of the compromise between Democrats and Republicans, and it showed they can work together,” said Flammia, who is awaiting an operation for his respiratory-related problems.

As a result of the reduced support, first responders will only be able to receive health benefits and compensation for five years instead of the 10 years originally proposed. Once signed by President Barack Obama, the law will take effect in 2011.

“Those people who did rush to help us and who thought they were being abandoned are now in the bosom of America,” Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) said after the unanimous Senate approval.

House members yesterday passed the new version by a 206-60 vote.

Among the more unlikely heroes hailed yesterday for helping in the passage of the legislation was TV personality Jon Stewart, who in recent weeks spent much airtime on “The Daily Show” pressuring Washington to move on the vote during this Congressional session, before the Republicans take over the House.

“It’s a shame that it had to come from someone on a comedy channel to make this an issue,” said Bill Romaka, of the Uniformed Firefighters Association of Greater New York.

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