In 2010, a bill called the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010 was introduced to the Senate. It called for health benefits to be extended to 9/11 first responders who had developed terminal illnesses or disabling conditions directly due to toxic exposure during their rescue efforts on September 11, 2001. President Barack Obama signed the bill into law on January 2nd, 2012, and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health announced Monday that many cancers that were originally not covered will be added to the list.
When the Zadroga bill was introduced, the GOP filibustered as long as they could, and when the bill finally came to a vote, 41 of 42 Republican Senators voted against it. Sam Brownback of Kentucky abstained. Even Ron Paul felt that dying first responders could pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Paul Ryan voted no twice on this bill before going on vacation, and on 9/11/2012, he showed his support for the 9/11 first responders by having lunch with firefighters in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. He thanked them for being “first responders for what you do for us every day.”
Others who blocked this bill, including John Boehner and Eric Cantor, held a press conference on the kind of support we should be giving to 9/11 responders instead of helping them with their illnesses:
It is repulsive to listen to people who actively opposed this bill talking about how they support the first responders and remember 9/11 ...by blaming Obama for blocking military spending and not stopping the wars started by their own party’s leaders, and how spending more money to fight the war they just complained that Obama hasn’t ended would be the best thing we could do for the rescuers this bill is aimed at.
So why did Republicans oppose this bill? Because of how it was paid for? Some of the funding would come from taxing foreign corporations that have operations in the U.S. (Taking away campaign contributions and maybe leading to people sitting up and taking notice of how American corporations avoid taxes by having operations in other countries? That’s my take on it, but here’s the gist of where the GOP has taken issue.) Because unscrupulous people would turn out in droves making fraudulent claims on the fund, as Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) claimed? Or because it was designed to fill the coffers of ailing New York City hospitals, per Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill)?
So they tweaked it a bit. Rep Cliff Stearns (R-FL), added language that requires all people filing claims be checked against the FBI terrorist watch list at a cost of ... I don’t know how much it cost to check 60,000 people against this list, which has saved us from hundreds of terrorist toddlers and people in wheelchairs at airports so far. They also wanted to require applicants to re-apply and be rescreened every year to show they were still sick, and still not terrorists. That got in, can’t find out the cost projection for that, either. Looking at the text of the bill, I see they failed to throw in some restrictions on abortions and a few tax cuts for corporations, but reports at the time from around the blogosphere indicated that those ideas were being bounced around.
Contrary to what this bill’s opponents may believe, the first responders do not all have health care insurance that will allow them to treat their illnesses free of charge. They do not all have remarkable disability and retirement packages that will allow them to live a life of luxury as they relax in the comfy recliners in the chemo lounges. The bill was proposed because people who risked their lives to save others were finding themselves unemployed and seriously ill, without the resources to fix the things that arose from the conditions they braved. We can be thankful that now cancer has been added to the list of “approved illnesses,” but everything else that Jon Stewart said about the GOP resistance still holds true today.