The prospects for passing a $7.4 billion aid package for sick Ground Zero workers dimmed further Wednesday after the Senate overwhelmingly approved a major tax cut bill without adding the September 11th-related legislation.
Proponents of the legislation, which would provide health care and compensation to those who became ill after working at the World Trade Center site, had hoped to get the provision attached to the tax deal worked out between the White House and Senate Republicans. New York lawmakers have spent years trying to get the measure passed.
The Ground Zero health bill failed in a Senate vote last week due to unified opposition by Republicans, who said they wanted to pass the tax cut package first. Yet none of those lawmakers have indicated they will in fact vote for the measure once the tax bill becomes law.
In another ominous sign, a major Senate spending bill was unveiled Wednesday -- and the 9/11 health legislation was left out. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he still hopes to bring the health bill back for another vote before the session ends.
Wednesday’s vote means supporters of the Ground Zero health package are running out of days and ways to pass the legislation. The House has already passed the measure, but the current lame-duck session of Congress is considered the bill’s last, best chance to become law.
In next year’s Congress, the Republican lawmakers opposed to the bill will control the House. Some Republicans have complained the measure is too costly or would create a program that would be prone to waste or fraud.
Currently, the government provides funding on a piecemeal basis for health monitoring of those exposed to the toxic dust and debris at the World Trade Center site following the 2001 terrorist attacks. The stalled legislation, if passed, would provide a long-term care program for such people, including those who labored in the recovery effort and others who lived and worked near the site. The bill would also reopen a victim compensation fund for those who have become ill or died.
After the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks, a government-backed compensation fund provided nearly $6 billion for those injured or killed. But eligibility for that program ended in 2003, before many of the illnesses developed that advocates now say were caused by exposure to the toxic materials.
Read more: Wall Street Journal