Senate to hold make-or-break vote on 9/11 first-responders health bill

Senate Democrats have scheduled a key vote Wednesday on legislation helping rescue workers who responded to the 9/11 attacks.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said that the Senate will hold a cloture vote at around noon to see if the bill providing healthcare benefits to 9/11 first-responders can get the 60 votes needed to break a filibuster.

If the Senate votes to end debate and no Senate Republicans throw up procedural hurdles, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Wednesday morning that the House will be waiting to approve the bill.

Hoyer said Wednesday that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told him that he "has an agreement" that can get the 9/11 bill through the Senate and to the House by early afternoon.

Hoyer said he had spoken with Reid on Wednesday morning, and that the top Senate Democrat believed that a deal had been reached with Republicans to pass the stalled legislation on what's shaping up to be the last day of the lame-duck Congress.

"I just got off the phone 10 minutes ago with the majority leader of the Senate, Harry Reid … and he indicates that he believes he can get a bill to me," Hoyer said on the liberal Bill Press radio show.

The 9/11 health bill had stalled in recent days in the Senate after Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) threatened to block it, citing concerns that the bill hadn't adequately made its way through the committee process.

Hoyer said that he had spoken on Tuesday evening with Schumer, who had been negotiating with Republicans in order to secure passage of the legislation.

Schumer said Wednesday on MSNBC that Reid had committed to a cloture vote at noon on the legislation, and that Democrats believe they'll have the 60 votes to end debate. The legislation will only go to the House, Schumer said, if Republicans agree to waive the time period of debate to which they're entitled. If Republicans like Coburn were to insist on having that time elapse, it would push the window of opportunity past Christmas, when the votes would no longer exist to approve the legislation, Schumer said.

"What we would ask them to do is don't block the bill, allow an up-or-down vote. And if we can get an up-or-down vote today, it'll pass," said the New York senator, who's shepherded the legislation through the Senate.

Hoyer said that if the legislation moves, the House will be in place to pass it.

"I think that we'll be here to pass this bill," he said.

The timeline sets up a particularly frenetic day for what appears to be the last day of the lame-duck session in the House and Senate. The Senate will also vote to ratify the New START treaty on Wednesday.