Sunday, December 19, 2010

Christmas Miracle Coming For 9/11 First Responders

Once the Senate wraps up work on the START treaty, it won’t be time for the Christmas break just yet. Before lawmakers head out of town for the holidays, the Senate will take another shot at a bill that would provide health care benefits and compensation to sick first responders of the 9/11 attacks.

“We are on the verge of a Christmas miracle,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., at a press conference today on Capitol Hill.

Gillibrand and fellow New York Democrat Chuck Schumer said they have the votes to pass the bill before the end of the year now that an agreement has been reached with Republicans on a new way to pay for the measure.

On Dec. 9 the bill failed to advance past a procedural vote in the Senate, but Democrats have since secured the support of the GOP’s Mark Kirk of Illinois and, according to Gillibrand and Schumer, other Republicans who previously objected to how the $6.2 billion bill was paid for.

The House-passed version of the bill offset the costs by closing tax loopholes for foreign companies, a move GOP lawmakers said violated international tax treaties. The new version would off-set the costs by implementing a fee on contracts with foreign countries that have not signed procurement agreements with the United States and by extending a visa fee.

“The clock is winding down but we are on the verge of an 11th hour breakthrough,” Schumer said. “Barring a setback we believe we are on the path to victory by the end of this week.

“The heroes who rushed to the towers on 9/11 are heroes who deserve to be taken care of, just like our veterans,” he said. “That’s what America promised in the days after 9/11. We are holding up that candle so that that promise is met and we will not quit until it is.”

America will be watching very closely to how this Senate votes on something that goes to the fundamental issue of who we are as Americans and whether we stand by our heroes,” Gillibrand said.

But even if Senate Democrats have the votes to pass the measure, the dwindling number of days before Christmas could present another obstacle. The Senate still has to wrap up work on the START treaty. Then, even if the Senate does pass the 9/11 measure, the House would have to pass it again due to the recent changes.

While the House could ultimately pass the bill by unanimous consent, there is no guarantee that it would -- and the clock is ticking.

“To go home, whether it’s close to Christmas or not, and leave these heroes abandoned would be the wrong thing to do,” Schumer said. “I think there’s going to be huge pressure on people not to go home until we do this.”

Schumer and Gillibrand, who said they will wear red, white and blue ribbons until the bill passes, noted that the measure is now estimated to reduce the deficit by $57 million, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

In addition, while the measure formerly was priced at $7.4 billion, it is now priced at $6.2 billion due to a settlement involving some 9/11 first responders.


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