Senate aims to take up bill to compensate Sept. 11 responders

But lawmakers may run out of time before the end of the year. If so, the Sept. 11-related legislation would have to be reintroduced next year.

Alex Brandon/AP
Keith LeBow, a first responder from New York, listens as New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg (l.) talks about the Senate's proposed 9/11 Health And Compensation Act, on Nov. 16, on Capitol Hill in Washington.

The supporters of a federal bill to compensate 9/11 responders and pay for their health care say they have the votes to get the $6.2 billion bill passed in the Senate – but they aren’t sure they have the time.

The legislation passed the House in September. If it doesn’t pass the Senate by year-end, it would have to be reintroduced next year. The legislation is set to be the item taken up after the Senate votes on the new START treaty with Russia, according to Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D) of New York, a key proponent of the 9/11 bill.

Even if the legislation passes the Senate, it would then have to return to the House for a vote before the end of the year because of changes in the Senate version. By most accounts, members of the House will be eager to leave for home in the next few days. So unless the Senate agrees to limit debate on the issue, it may not have time to pass both chambers, Representative Maloney says.

“We have the votes. The question is the timing,” Maloney says. “We are calling on the Republican leadership to work with the Democratic leadership in the time that is remaining to get this done.”

The legislation, which has been in Congress for nine years, would provide billions of dollars to monitor and treat first responders who are struggling with illnesses and injuries attributed to 9/11. Currently, 14,000 first responders are receiving medical care for problems linked to the attacks.

Earlier this year, most of the responders agreed to accept a government plan to fund a $1 billion insurance pool to pay for health care and compensation. Under the pending legislation, they would receive only supplemental care and compensation, so they could not “double dip.”

The legislation would also establish a federal program to provide initial health screenings for anyone in the area at the time of the attacks. So far, 71,000 non-responders have registered as having been affected by the attacks.

The legislation that is before the Senate differs markedly from the House version in terms of how to fund the programs. In the House version, most of the funding would come from the elimination of a tax loophole.

In the Senate version, the funding would come from new taxes or revenues paid for by foreigners. The bulk of the money, some $4.5 billion over 10 years, would come from imposing a 2 percent “excise fee” on foreign companies that win US government contracts. It’s expected that most of this money would come from companies working for the US military.

The Senate bill would raise another $800 million by extending a fee on work-visa applications from employers who have workforces with more than 50 percent foreign visa-holders. It’s expected that this would mainly affect H-1B visas for highly skilled workers outsourced by foreign companies such as Wipro and Tata.

Also, some $1 billion would be raised through a “travel promotion fee” for certain visitors, which was set to expire in 2015. It would be extended until 2021.

Many opponents of the bill are Republicans who view the legislation as an entitlement for New York, says Rep. Peter King (R) of New York, a supporter of the legislation. “There is a lot of anti-New York feeling in Congress,” he said at a press conference held Monday at New York City Hall.

He says he has also heard that some members of his party are concerned that any taxes on foreign companies would result in some form of retaliation against US companies. “The Daily Show” has targeted Sen. Michael Enzi (R) of Wyoming, who has said he opposes the legislation because he does not think there has been a sufficient accounting of where other 9/11 funds have been spent.

“I appreciate the motivations of the bill sponsors, but rushing a flawed bill through Congress at the end of this lame duck session is not the right way to address these important issues,” he wrote in an op-ed in the New York Daily News on Dec. 12.

Not all Republicans are opposed, however. “Rudy Giuliani has made every call I’ve asked him to make,” said New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, referring to the city’s former mayor – a Republican who was running the city at the time of 9/11.

Mr. Bloomberg and other supporters of the bill are trying to convince opponents that the billions of dollars will benefit all Americans. “This is a bill for the future. We want to make sure people are willing to go in and risk their lives when they rescue people,” Mr. Bloomberg said at the City Hall press conference. “This is an American bill, not a New York bill. This is a bipartisan bill, not a Democratic or Republican bill.”

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