Senate GOP blocks 9/11 first responders health plan bill

Senate Republicans on Thursday morning filibustered legislation to monitor and treat first responders and emergency workers who suffered illnesses related to 9/11.

A vote to quash the filibuster failed by a vote of 57 to 42, three votes short of the necessary threshold. As a result, the proposal is unlikely to pass this year.

The bill would provide funding for a health program to treat first responders, construction and cleanup workers and residents who inhaled toxic particles after the collapse of the World Trade Center towers.

The $7.4 billion cost of the legislation over 10 years is paid for by a provision that would prevent foreign multinational corporations from using tax havens to avoid taxes on U.S. income.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) blasted Republicans after the vote.

“Republicans denied adequate health care to the heroes who developed illnesses from rushing into burning buildings on 9/11. Yet they will stop at nothing to give tax breaks to millionaires and CEOs, even though they will explode our deficit and fail to create jobs. That tells you everything you need to know about their priorities,” Reid said in a statement.

The International Association of Firefighters, the National Association of Police Organizations, the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association and the AFL-CIO union, among other organizations, support the legislation.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), one of the bill’s co-sponsors, made an impassioned plea before the vote to bring it up for consideration.

“This vote is about being an American, because from the days at Bunker Hill, when the patriots put down their plows and took up muskets to defend and create our freedom, we always try to take care of them,” Schumer said. “The heroes of 9/11 are no different.”

Schumer said some of the police officers and firefighters who rushed to the flaming towers have already been diagnosed with cancers.

“Others know it is an almost certainty that they will come down with similar diseases and illnesses that are extremely costly to fight,” he said.

Last week, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) released a letter signed by every Senate Republican pledging to block all legislative action until Congress acts on the expiring Bush tax cuts and passes a measure to fund the federal government into 2011.

The Senate has yet to vote on either issue. Reid said a bipartisan deal to extend tax rates for two years might receive a vote Saturday. 

The setback provides a difficult path for the $7.4 billion bill to get approved before the lame-duck session is scheduled to end next week. However, House members were circulating a letter Thursday morning urging the Senate to include the bill in the recent tax deal forged by President Obama. 

"We feel that we must seize every opportunity possible to ensure that this bill become law," the letter read.

Republicans oppose the paid-for healthcare benefits bill because it closes a tax loophole on foreign companies. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) blasted Republicans following the failed filibuster vote.

"The idea that tax cuts for millionaires would derail this legislation is simply outrageous and offensive," Gillibrand said in a statement. "The men and women who rushed to the burning towers and worked for hundreds of hours on the pile did not delay, and the Senate should not have delayed either."

—This story was updated at 12:29 p.m.