9/11 Health Care Bill Passes CongressDecember 23, 2010 - by Donny Shaw
Capping off an unusually productive lame duck session, the congressional Democrats have finally won passage of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act. The bill, which would provide health care benefits and financial compensation for first responders at Ground Zero who were exposed to toxins and are now sick, had been the subject of a partisan stand-off for years. Republicans in the House and Senate blocked the bill earlier this year, but yesterday, after everyone from Jon Stewart to Rudy Giuliani to Fox News’ Shep Smith joined the chorus calling for the bill’s passage, Republicans backed down and let the bill go through.
The bill will provide medical monitoring and treatment for first responders, provide initial health screenings for people who were in the area at the time of the attack and may be at risk, and reopen the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund to provide compensation for losses and harm as an alternative to the current litigation system.
Because there was bipartisan agreement Wednesday on wanting to go home, and probably because Republicans didn’t actually want to put go down on the record either for or against the bill, no roll call was taken in the Senate and the bill was approved by unanimous consent. Just weeks earlier, Republicans voted unanimously to filibuster the bill because the U.S. Chamber of Commerce was opposed to the pay-for in the bill that would have closed a tax loophole that allows businesses incorporated in tax havens to do business in the U.S. but avoid paying taxes.
The version that was approved swapped out the original pay-for in exchange for a new fee on foreign companies that get contracts with the federal government. It also creates a new fee on companies that rely on H-1B and L-1 visas. The total amount of money available to first responders under the bill was reduced as well, from $6.2 billion to $4.2 billion.
The House followed the Senate a few hours later and passed the revised version of the bill by a vote of 206-60. By the time the vote was held, 169 members of the House had already gone home for the holidays and weren’t available to vote.