Long road to 9/11 Health Bill passage for local pols
By Josh Rogers
The drawn-out fight to pass the Zadroga 9/11 health bill was made even longer by the Obama administration"s indifference, but the legislation got crucial, unexpected G.O.P. help, Democratic Congressman Jerrold Nadler said Monday.
â€œWe didn"t have the support of the administration, Nadler said in a phone interview. â€œWe never got it until it was late.
Nadler, whose district includes the World Trade Center site in addition to the Upper West Side, said President Obama"s lack of effort earlier on was one of many reasons it took so long to pass. The law provides longer term health care for first responders, workers and residents who are suffering with cancer, respiratory problems or other ailments that were likely caused by the environmental fallout from the Twin Towers" collapse.
The $7.1 billion bill took â€œthousands and thousands and thousands of hours of negotiations over many years, added Nadler, a chief sponsor of the bill. Just over $4 billion will go to health care and $2.8 billion will be used to reopen the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund.
Nadler said House Republican leaders â€œdid one decent thing last September, passing on a surefire way to kill the bill when it came to the floor. Had Republicans introduced an amendment to deny coverage to illegal immigrants at that point, it would have been a fatal blow, Nadler said. Depending on the outcome of the amendment vote, it would have lost too many Democratic votes either from the Hispanic and Black caucuses or from conservative Blue Dog members. Republican Congressman Peter King and Mayor Mike Bloomberg both deserve credit for convincing House Republicans from introducing this â€œpoison pill amendment, Nadler said.
He said it would have been â€œimmoral to deny health care to any rescuer. â€œNo one asked him his immigration status when he went in to help, Nadler said.
His postpartum analysis of the law"s birth in no way means he is softening to Republicans. He remains one of the most liberal members of the House, and emphasized that the bill passed with overwhelming Democratic support and barely enough Republican help to become law. Although the Obama administration provided little support, it also did not oppose the bill like the Bush administration, Nadler added.
When Obama took office in 2009, the New York delegation and 9/11 advocates had reason to expect more support from the administration. A few weeks before the election, a campaign spokesperson first announced Obama"s support for the bill in an email to this reporter.
But the president was largely silent until recently about the bill"s merits, and a year ago, the bill"s prospects were thrown further into doubt when Kathleen Sebelius, Obama"s health secretary, spoke against the measure. Obama signed the bill Sunday in Hawaii and the White House released only a brief statement of support.
East Side Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, who, like Nadler, was a bill sponsor, did not join her ally in criticizing the president. She did not address the president"s earlier silence and said she was â€œgrateful for his support.
â€œIt was Bush who said he would do whatever it takes to help New York recover, but it was President Obama who got the job done, Maloney said.
Both Maloney and Nadler said they recalled beating back many efforts to limit the bill only to first responders and cut 9/11 survivors out.
The bill"s highest drama moment in front of the cameras came last summer, when two of the strongest supporters, Congressmen Anthony Weiner and King, shouted on the House floor, arguing over which party was more to blame for a failed vote.
But there were many other moments of high drama behind the scenes. Nadler said when Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand thanked him and Maloney at a press conference celebrating the Senate"s passage, the two House members were not standing behind her because they were huddled up with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in her office. The House still needed to get the parchment version of the adjusted Senate bill and Pelosi was worried that too many House members would be gone for Christmas by the time it arrived.
Nadler said he cheered only one â€œNo vote. That was the 218th cast in the House, and it meant that there were enough votes to send the bill to the president.
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