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Progress for 9/11 First Responders' Health Care Bill

December 20, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

The James Zadroga 9/11 Health Compensation Act, which would help first responders at Ground Zero who were exposed to dangerous toxins access medical care, has been kicking around Congress for nearly two years. It finally passed the House earlier this fall, but it was recently filibustered by Republicans in the Senate.

Now, the Republicans didn’t filibuster this because they hate 9/11 rescue workers. And it’s actually not because it would add to the deficit either. It’s fully offset. The reason Republicans filibustered the bill is because it would have financed the new health benefits by closing a loophole that allows companies to incorporate in tax havens and avoid paying taxes on business they conduct in the U.S.

If you look at the money trail behind the bill, the two organizations that have come out against it are very influential Republicans groups — the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Americans for Tax Reform. In September, the Chamber wrote to Congress asking them to vote against the bill because the tax provision it would “discourage foreign investment in the United States” and “aggravate already unsettled financial markets.”

So Democrats are now changing the bill by taking out the tax-loophole closer, reducing the amount of benefits that would be available for first responders, and adding new pay-fors. According to the AP, “the new bill would be paid for with a fee on some foreign firms that get U.S. government procurement contracts. The bill also calls for extending fees on certain firms that rely on H-1B and L-1 visas. It would also extend fees on travelers who don’t present visa travel documents at U.S. airports.”

New York Senators Kirsten Gillibrand [D] and Chuck Schumer [D] are optimistic that the changes will be enough to get this bill past Republican opposition and through the Senate before the session ends. According to Schumer, a vote will be held on Wednesday, right after the Senate finishes debate of the nuclear arms treaty with Russia, and he’s urging the House to stay in session until after the Senate votes so they can give the revised version final passage and send it to Obama for his signature.

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