New York's Dem senators see breakthrough on 9/11 healthcare bill

Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) announced Sunday they have struck a deal with Senate Republicans to pass a 9/11 healthcare bill, one of the last items remaining on the lame-duck schedule.

Republican leaders have signed off on the substance of the legislation, but uncertainty remains over whether there will be enough time to pass it before Christmas. Schumer is worried that some opponents might try to set procedural holders to delay floor action beyond the end of this week.

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There’s also a question about whether House lawmakers will stay in town long enough to approve Senate action on the bill.

“The unresolved issues mainly relate to timing, not to the substance of the bill,” Schumer told reporters Sunday. “We believe if we had all the time we need, we would get a majority of votes in both houses. So we’re going to have to navigate, but we think, as we said, that the finish line’s in sight.”

The James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act would authorize the World Trade Center Healthcare Program to monitor and provide specialized treatment for 9/11 responders — including firefighters, police officers and clean-up crew — and residents living near the disaster site.

Republicans blocked a version of the bill Dec. 9 with a filibuster because they said the provisions to pay for the healthcare program would violate international tax treaties.

Schumer and Gillibrand won Republican support by changing the provisions to offset the cost of the legislation and reducing the bill’s overall cost from $7.4 billion to $6.2 billion.

Schumer said the program could be downsized because of a recent $712.5 million legal settlement won by rescue and recovery workers.

"So that allows us to reduce the bill without diminishing the healthcare, but the fact that we have reduced the amount has meant a lot to our Republican colleagues," Schumer said.

Democrats began to see Republican obstruction of the 9/11 healthcare bill as a potent political topic. Reid vowed to hold a second vote on the legislation within days of Republican senators blocking it.

Left-leaning comedian Jon Stewart also raised the issue's profile by inviting four 9/11 first responders suffering from cancer and other health ailments to discuss Senate Republican opposition to the bill.

Stewart asked the workers about Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell’s (Ky.) decision to block the bill after showing his guests a clip of McConnell choking up on the Senate floor over the retirement of Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.).

“What’s going through your mind as you watch this process go down?” Stewart asked.

Kenny Specht a 13-year veteran of the FDNY, who is suffering from cancer, said, “I feel bad for Mitch McConnell.

“He said something very important, that he’s going to watch his friend walk out of the Senate chambers, and, unfortunately, that’s more than a New York City firefighter can say about 343 of his brothers who can’t walk anymore.”

A Senate GOP aide said Republican senators didn’t oppose the bill because of a lack of sympathy for first responders. The aide said the earlier version of the bill would violate international treaties and if the provision was fixed, GOP support would follow.

"It's one thing to make an emotional appeal, to say we need to care for somebody who did something good," Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) said on "Fox News Sunday" earlier in the day. "It's another to do it in a sensible way. And that's all we're asking for."

The new version of the 9/11 bill would raise $4.6 billion by imposing a 2-percent excise fee on foreign manufacturers and companies based in countries that are not part of an international procurement agreement.