9/11 Health Act Passes Senate

A bill to provide medical care for firefighters and other public service workers who responded to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks passed the Senate on Wednesday after supporters of the bill struck a deal to end a Republican blockade of the measure.

The James Zadroga 9/11 health bill was approved by voice vote in the Senate and the House of Representatives was set to pass the measure shortly after the Senate action.

The bill’s proposal was to provide medical treatment for emergency responders sickened by toxic dust inhaled at the World Trade Center site in New York in the days following the attack. Republicans had initially criticized the $7.4 billion cost of the 10-year bill, which had been approved by the House, and blocked Senate passage.

Supporters of the bill struck a deal reducing the size of the payout to a five-year plan with a cost of $4.3 billion.

The bill would cap lawyers’ fees at 10 percent and prevent double dipping from a recent 9/11 health settlement, according to a Senate aide.

The bill is expected to get President Barack Obama’s approval and a signature, putting it into effect.

In a joint statement made to Reuters, Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer said: “The Christmas miracle we’ve been looking for has arrived.”

“Over the last 24 hours, our Republican colleagues have negotiated in good-faith to forge a workable final package that will protect the health of the men and women who selflessly answered our nation’s call in her hour of greatest need,” Gillibrand and Schumer said.

Republican antagonists had taken considerable heat from firefighters and other responders as well as Democrats for blocking the measure.

This bill could be the last bit of legislation to clear Congress before it adjourns. A new Congress is seated in January and Republicans will take control of the House. Supporters of the measure would have had to start the legislative process anew if they had failed to get the bill passed through the current Congress.

Thousands of rescue and cleanup workers have experienced respiratory problems and other illnesses from working at the WTC site after the attacks on the twin towers.

The bill was named after New York Detective James Zadroga who worked at the site for three weeks during the rescue and recovery efforts. He began to have breathing problems and later died in 2006.

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