An American flag placed at the name of Frances Ann...

An American flag placed at the name of Frances Ann Cilente by her aunts during a commemoration ceremony of the 11th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks at the North Pool of the 9/11 memorial in New York Credit: Chang W. Lee/Pool

Congress is primed to chip away at money set aside to treat and compensate people who got sick after clearing debris at Ground Zero in lower Manhattan.

In the name of deficit reduction $38 million will be trimmed next year from programs created by the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act. The money is a portion of $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts Congress agreed to in 2011 to end a ginned up crisis in which Republicans flirted recklessly with defaulting on the nation’s debts to force spending cuts.

Such undiscerning, across the board cuts are an irresponsible way to shave federal deficits. Congress needs to find a more rational way to get it done. But if it doesn’t, the hard won compensation for 9/11 first reponders should be spared the budget knife, and not just because compensating selfless police, firefighters and volunteers for their sacrifice is the honorable thing to do.

Other, similar health and compensation programs — such as the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund, the Radiation Exposure Compensation Trust Fund and vaccine injury compensation — are exempt from the cuts looming in the process called sequestration. Veterans programs are mostly exempt too. Sick first responders deserve the same deference, particularly since caring for them them will be more costly now that 50 types of cancer have been added to the list of covered illnesses.

Besides when Congress approved the $4.3 billion 9/11 compensation fund in 2010 it also created a revenue stream to pay for it — with about $433 million left over for deficit reduction. The money will come from a 2 percent tax that will be imposed on foreign companies with U.S. government contracts, if the companies’ home countries bar U.S. companies from competing for its government contracts.

The $38 million Congress may take back isn’t that much money, but slicing funding so soon after approving it doesn’t bode well.

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