Days after the terrorist attacks in Paris, first responders from the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on American soil headed to the Capitol to push Congress to renew their health care programs.
New York firefighters and other first responders joined lawmakers at a Tuesday event calling for the World Trade Center Health Program, which expired on Sept. 30, and the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund, to be permanently extended. The Paris attacks and other potential attacks on the United States, they contended, demonstrate the need to prove the government is committed to taking care of first responders.
“It’s equally ironic that we sit here now, a few days after Paris had their 9/11, to take care of the folks who responded to ours," Paul Rieckhoff, founder and CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said at the event. "What kind of message does it send to Americans if folks like this have to stand up in front of Congress and beg for health care support?" "There’s, right now, a threat attack in Washington, D.C.," Rieckhoff later added. "And if something happens right now, these are the folks who are going to run into the fire. The are the ones who are going to run in to help people, and we can’t leave them behind.”
IAVA announced Tuesday that the group would join the lobbying effort to pass the the James Zadroga Act, named for a New York City police officer who died of a 9/11-related illness, which would reauthorize the programs. More than 30,000 responders have known illnesses or injuries related to work after 9/11. And more than 70,000 responders also participate in a health monitoring program.
But the bill has halted in Congress, due to opposition to a permanent extension and questions about the programs' costs. On Nov. 10, the Congressional Budget Office estimated the bill would increase government spending from between $8 billion and $11 billion from 2016 to 2025. The CBO said additional spending would continue after that period.
"I think there are too many House members who want to cut this bill short, make it a five-year bill, only cover some of the costs, not all the costs of the diseases that these men and women have," Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., a leading proponent of the bill, said Tuesday. "And I think that is cynical and outrageous.”
Gillibrand and another leader in the effort, Rep. Peter T. King, R-N.Y., said they have spoken with GOP leaders in their respective chambers, and leadership supports their bill, but issues within the GOP rank and file have stalled the process.
"I have spoken to the speaker. I’ve spoken to the whip," King said. "Paul Ryan has pledged to bring it up. We have to get it in the right form, though, and that’s what’s going on right now. There are very delicate negotiations going on. And hopefully — not hopefully — we have to get it done by the end of the year."
King told CQ Roll Call after the event that he hoped the bill would come up for a vote, but there is also the possibility that a reauthorization could be incorporated into a year-end spending package, or omnibus. Congress has until Dec. 11 to pass a government spending package.
"Our last chance to get this through is going to be the omnibus package,” King said.
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