A Handful of Republicans Have Finally Been Convinced to Help Sick Ground Zero Workers

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Photo: Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images

Don't look now, but the Democrats are starting to rack up a pretty sizable number of successes in what was at one time expected to be a quiet and largely uneventful lame-duck session. There was the tax-cut deal, which included an extension of unemployment benefits, then the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," and soon, it appears, even the long-stalled James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act. And yes, it is strange that guaranteeing medical assistance for first responders sickened by the toxic dust of the destroyed World Trade Center is a specifically Democratic issue.

Republicans have maintained that they don't have anything against the heroes of ground zero (kind of an embarrassing thing to have to convince people of), but merely objected to how the $7.4 billion bill was funded — closing a tax loophole on foreign corporations — and the timing of the vote. On December 9, not a single Republican senator broke with the party's filibuster, and the bill was blocked from a vote.

But New York's Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand didn't give up, and with a few tweaks, they've apparently been able to garner a whopping three Republican votes for the legislation. "I believe we now have more than enough votes to pass this legislation," Gillibrand said yesterday. "Barring a setback, we believe we are on a path to victory by the end of this week," Schumer concurred. How did they do it? The price tag of the bill was pared down to $6.2 billion, and the source of funding was changed to something almost too esoteric to oppose:

The revised legislation would impose a new 2 percent fee on goods and services from firms in foreign countries that are not members of the Agreement on Government Procurement.

Funding would also come from continuing fees on travelers to the United States and on firms where more than half of the employees are on visas to work in the country.

Okay then! But there's one more hurdle. The House already passed the bill in September, but now that it's been amended, they need to pass it again. The votes are there, but the House was planning on wrapping up business and leaving town for the holidays soon. As The Wall Street Journal reports, now "New York’s senators must also persuade House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to keep the lawmakers in town long enough to vote on the updated version." You want to be on the nice list this year, don't you Nancy?

9/11 Health Bill Gets Last Senate Push [WSJ]
Pols see hope for 9/11 bill [NYP]