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Congress needs to do right by 911 responders

James Zadroga's father, Joe Zadroga, center, is joined

James Zadroga's father, Joe Zadroga, center, is joined by congress members, first responders, family members and others at news conference in Manhattan during which he called on Congress to prevent the expiration of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, Thursday, September 03, 2015. Credit: Charles Eckert

For shame. Two congressmen so removed from the realities of Ground Zero have proposed two bills to temporarily fund the Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act. Neither comes close to what first responders and others who suffer from 9/11-related illnesses need.

The bills would extend the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund and the 9/11 World Trade Center Health Program -- but only by five years and at funding levels far below what's needed. As victims go to Washington, D.C., and have to shout to be heard, the plans from Republicans Bob Goodlatte of Virginia and Fred Upton of Michigan come as a barely whispered, disgraceful response.

What happens if the program is temporary and funding is limited? Does a cop get treatment while an emergency medical technician does not? Is a firefighter compensated while another is told there aren't enough funds? More than 33,000 people are ill or injured as a result of the Sept. 11 attacks. More than 70,000 others are being monitored for symptoms. Every single one of them needs help.

Such chintzy support would destroy the program and the lives of those it's supposed to help. Instead, the Zadroga Act must be reauthorized permanently and at full funding. That could amount to up to $400 million a year for the health piece and $11 billion for the compensation fund.

A bill by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand to permanently reauthorize Zadroga has 64 bipartisan co-sponsors, making it filibuster-proof, and has the support of Bill de Blasio and 23 other mayors. But the bill won't mean anything if the House of Representatives doesn't come through. Rep. Peter King, who should have some clout, said he'll meet with Republican leaders to push for full funding of Zadroga. It's up to him and fellow Republican Lee Zeldin to work their side of the aisle. This is also a chance for Speaker Paul Ryan to show he's a leader for the entire nation.

Timing is key. The health care program, which has expired, will start to dry up, and doctors could leave. The compensation piece expires next year. It's critical that Congress permanently and fully funds Zadroga this year.

Nothing short of that is acceptable.