Democrats Will Seek Assistance for Ground Zero Workers

Posted September 1, 2010 at 11:19am

The controversy surrounding plans to build an Islamic center in lower Manhattan near the ground zero site is unlikely to deter House Democrats from taking another stab in September at passing a bill that would provide billions of dollars in assistance to first responders and others with cleanup-induced health problems from the site.

A Democratic leadership aide said Tuesday that the bill likely would get the green light for floor action shortly after the House returns Sept. 14 in conjunction with events planned to commemorate the ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The heated debate that raged this August in the media and in political circles over whether Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf should be allowed to open the Islamic center, which critics have deemed the “ground zero mosque,” will not prompt House Democrats to shy away from bringing up the 9/11 heath bill, Democratic leadership aides said this week.

“I really wouldn’t say that that changes the calculation,” one aide said.

The bill’s failure to garner the two-thirds majority needed for passage July 29 touched off a heated exchange on the House floor between New York Reps. Anthony Weiner (D) and Peter King (R) over which party was to blame. Just 12 Republicans, including King, supported the measure, drawing ire from Weiner, but King blasted Democrats — all but four of whom backed the bill — for bringing up the measure under a procedure that requires a two-thirds vote for passage and bars amendments, rather than under regular order.

The Democratic leadership aide said leaders have not yet determined how the bill would be brought to the floor in September or whether amendments would be allowed.

“Leadership is talking with the New York delegation and other interested members about the best way to move forward on this bill,” the aide said. “No decisions have been made.”

Another leadership aide accused Republicans of trying to drive a wedge between President Barack Obama and vulnerable Democrats in competitive districts following Obama’s comments last month in support of the center, adding that Democrats believe the 9/11 bill is good policy that should be pursued separately from the furor over the Islamic center.

“I don’t think anyone is going to be making a decision on whether or not we’re going to do this thing based on the mosque controversy,” the aide said.

Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), have criticized Obama for weighing in on the center, saying he effectively elevated a local issue to the national stage.