Hoyer still 'hopeful' House can pass 9/11 first-responders health bill this week

A top House Democrat said Tuesday that legislation providing healthcare services for 9/11 rescue workers is still on track for a House vote this week.

After talks with bill supporters in the Senate, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said he remains hopeful the upper chamber will send the proposal back to the House "by tonight or early tomorrow morning."

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Hoyer said he spoke Tuesday morning with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), a lead sponsor of the Senate bill, to discuss plans for finalizing the measure this week.

"We want to pass it. We think it's an important piece of legislation," Hoyer said. "I am hopeful that we can deal with it tonight. We'll see what the [Senate] Republicans want to do."

Although House lawmakers passed the bill by a wide margin in September, the legislation has faced a much steeper climb in the Senate, where GOP critics say they want more time to consider it. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) is threatening to filibuster the bill, preventing the proposal from even reaching the Senate floor.

Sponsored by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), the House-passed bill would create a multi-billion dollar federal healthcare benefits program for the emergency and cleanup workers who responded to the 9/11 attacks on New York City's World Trade Center. The funding would cover treatments and medical monitoring for those workers.

The Congressional Budget Office estimated the House bill would cost $7.4 billion over the next decade — an expense fully offset by tweaking tax law to end certain breaks for foreign-based corporate subsidiaries operating in the U.S.

In response to GOP criticisms, Senate Democrats have amended the House proposal, scaling back the cost to $6.2 billion, and funding the measure largely with a 2 percent fee on imports from companies not signed on to a 15-year-old treaty of the World Trade Organization.

With Republicans poised to take over the House next year, many bill supporters view this week as their last chance to pass the measure. All but 17 House Republicans voted against the proposal in September.

Hoyer on Tuesday was noncommittal about the possibility of calling House members back later in the month if the Senate passes the bill after the lower chamber has adjourned.

"I don't have enough information to make that decision," Hoyer said. "Obviously, the closer we get to Christmas, the less likely that it is that members being willing to stay to finish business."

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