Updated 09/29/2010 10:29 PM
House Approves Zadroga 9/11 Health Bill
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Voting for the second time on the measure, the House of Representatives approved by a 268-160 vote Wednesday a $7 billion health bill for first responders who fell ill at the World Trade Center site, more than nine years after the September 11th terrorist attacks.
The House first failed to pass the bill with a two-thirds majority in July, but the latest passage only required a simple majority.
Republicans attempted to derail the vote on the legislation by trying to send it back to committee for amendments. That effort failed, and the bill was passed without amendments.
Supporters said the aid was critical for first responders at the World Trade Center site who grew sick after they were exposed to toxins released after the collapse of the Twin Towers.
"This is not a New York issue, our nation was attacked and those who are suffering come from all 50 states, and 428 of the 435 congressional districts nationwide -- nearly every member of Congress -- has constituents who lost their health because of the attacks," said Democratic Manhattan-Queens Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, one of the bill's sponsors.
"The EPA, despite ample evidence to the contrary, kept falsely proclaiming that the air was safe to breathe. It wasn't," said Democratic Manhattan-Brooklyn Congressman Jerrold Nadler, another sponsor of the bill. "The terrorists caused an environmental catastrophe but the federal government compounded the damage by telling people that the environment was safe when it wasn't, and now thousands of people are sick and in need of special care. We have a moral obligation to treat those who became ill, and that's what this bill is all about."
"The toxins are in their blood. All of that now is coming forward," said Republican Long Island Congressman Peter King, another sponsor of the bill. "You see people in the prime of life -- 40, 50 years old, people who run marathons, people who were in the peak of shape -- dying slowly in front of us."
Critics have likened the legislation to a slush fund that would be open to abuse, fraud and waste. They have also raised concerns at to where the money would come from.
This bill was first voted down during a House vote in July, after Democratic leaders used a procedure move that required the measure to receive a two-thirds majority vote.
That July move was aimed at preventing Republicans from tacking on amendments, like a proposal to prevent September 11th medical benefits from going to illegal immigrants, but that led to a heated feud among the New York delegation.
After the vote, supporters of the bill called the passage a great victory for the September 11th first responders who desperately need health care.
"I was so overjoyed when that bill passed today, I literally had tears in my eyes that the bill finally passed after all these years, and the first responders hopefully if we get through the Senate that the first responders get the health care and the compensation that they're due," said James Zadroga's father, Joseph Zadroga.
"We won a major victory today and I'm overjoyed. Today we put aside a little politics, and we did a little right, and a little good," said Manhattan-Brooklyn Congressman Jerrold Nadler.
The nonprofit FealGood Foundation, which raises awareness of the health needs of September 11th first responders, helped sponsor three buses that took Manhattan residents and politicians to Washington, D.C. today, so they could observe the House vote on the bill.
More than 100 first responders from New York were among those in the House Gallery.
President Barack Obama has said he will sign the measure if and when it passes Congress.
The measure is named for James Zadroga, a city police detective who supporters say died from respiratory illness caused by dust inhaled at the World Trade Center site.
That claim has been disputed by the city medical examiner, who ruled that Zadroga died of prescription drug abuse.