9/11 first responders bill expected to pass later today

Amanda Carey Contributor
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Update (3:08 p.m.) – The bill passed unanimously a short time ago after Senate Democrats reached a deal with Republicans. The cost of the measure was reportedly reduced by $2 billion.

The last item on the agenda for the 111th Congress is shaping up to be a 9/11 first responder’s bill. Pushed by Democrats and obstructed by Republicans for months, Majority leaders say they now have the 60 votes needed to pass the bill.

But Republican Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey is standing by the Republican opposition.”I don’t think my party is opposed to this bill,” said Christie.”This bill should be done, but it should be done in a way that is fiscally responsible.”

Christie clarified his opposition though, calling it the “responsible and humane thing to do.”

“There has to be a responsible way to pay for this, and they need to come to an agreement to pay for it,”said Christie.

Officially known as the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010, Republican Senators have come under attack for opposing the bill that would extend health benefits to those suffering from diseases and illnesses brought on by the initial aftermath of the Twin Towers’ collapse.

Republican Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma has led the charge in opposition to the measure. In a detailed seven-page memo, the senator outlined his problems with the bill. Not  surprisingly, his criticisms, like Christie’s revolve around fiscal concerns.

Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma has led the opposition to the measure. In a detailed seven-page memo, the senator outlined his problems with the bill. Not surprisingly, they all revolve around fiscal concerns.

Chief among his concerns is the fact that the bill ignores already existing health care entitlement programs for the victims of 9/11. It also opens back up the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund (VCF) – a fund that was intended only to be temporary.

According to Coburn’s memo, the health care program would cost $3.2 billion, and an additional $3 billion would be spent on “unnecessary and duplicative compensation funds”.

“The Federal role should be limited to addressing real gaps in 9/11 healthcare needs and fulfilling broad public health goals,” said the memo. “As our national debt nears $14 trillion, Americans should question whether we should add $10.4 billion in mandatory spending—not subject to annual budgeting decisions—to our already unsustainable budgetary commitments.”

Coburn also notes in the memo that it would be difficult for the government to determine which illnesses – things like sleep apnea, asthma, and substance abuse – were actually caused by the events on 9/11.

Republican senators who have publicly opposed the bill include Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Jim DeMint and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Jon Kyl of Arizona, and John Cornyn of Texas.

While he has been the most outspoken in opposition, a spokesperson from Coburn’s office told The Daily Caller that the senator “cannot speak for other Republican offices.”

Rudy Giuliani, mayor of New York City on September 11, 2001, blasted Republicans for opposing the measure. “This should not be seen as a Democratic or Republican issue,” he said. “It shouldn’t even be seen as a fiscal issue. It’s a matter of morality, of obligation.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has joined in the criticism, saying, “First responders from Oklahoma and all across the country are calling on Senator Coburn to explain why he is denying them the care they need for the debilitating illnesses they developed saving lives on 9/11. These heroes saved lives and helped America recover from 9/11. Senator Coburn owes them an explanation.”

Despite the opposition, the bill is expected to pass later this afternoon.