source: NY Times Sep 30, 2010
The House on Wednesday approved legislation to provide billions of dollars for medical treatment to rescue workers and residents of New York City who suffered illnesses from breathing in toxic fumes, dust and smoke at ground zero.
The vote was 268 to 160, with 17 Republicans joining Democrats in support of the bill. Opposing the measure were 157 Republicans and three Democrats. Republicans raised concerns about the $7.4 billion cost of the program.
The bill’s fate is unclear in the Senate. Republicans have enough votes to filibuster the measure, and Senate Democrats have not shown great interest in bringing the measure to the floor.
The bill aroused impassioned debate, as 9/11 responders and their relatives watched from the House gallery.
The vote occurred as Congress moved to finish its legislative business quickly and adjourn this week to allow lawmakers to head back home to campaign before the Nov. 2 elections.
The bill calls for providing $3.2 billion over the next eight years to monitor and treat injuries stemming from exposure to toxic dust and debris at ground zero. New York City would pay 10 percent of those health costs. The bill seeks to set aside $4.2 billion to reopen the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund to provide compensation for any job and economic losses.
In addition, the bill includes a provision that would have allowed money from the Victim Compensation Fund to be paid out to anyone who receives payment under the pending settlement stemming from lawsuits that 10,000 rescue and cleanup workers filed against the city. At the moment, anyone who receives a settlement from the city is limited in how much compensation they can receive from the fund, according to the bill’s sponsors.
Until now, Congress has appropriated money on an annual basis to monitor the health of people injured at ground zero and to provide them with medical treatment.
There are nearly 60,000 people enrolled in a variety of health monitoring and treatment programs related to the 9/11 attacks, according to the sponsors of the bill. The federal government provides the bulk of the money for those health programs.
The bill’s supporters have been demanding that the government institute a more permanent health program for 9/11 responders, fearful that annual appropriations are subject to the political whims of Congress and the White House.
But such a program has been opposed by many Republicans, who raised concerns about creating a new federal entitlement to provide health benefits at a time when the federal government is running a huge budget deficit.