Monday, September 5, 2011

GOP’s Refusal to Back 9/11 Health Care Is a Disgrace (First published on August 12, 2010)

It’s ordinarily a hoot to see an elected representative go bonkers, but Brooklyn Congressman Anthony Weiner’s recent burst of hysteria on the floor of the House of Representatives was genuinely warranted. Many observers were likely troubled by the brief flare-up, but others were probably thrilled to watch a Congressman rage over something that most Americans assumed was a cinch to pass, regardless of the cost even in these austere economic times.
In case you missed it — 110 seconds of it can be viewed on YouTube — Weiner lambasted his GOP colleagues for failing to support a bill that would have allocated more than $7 billion for firefighters, police and other first responders who became ill after working at Ground Zero on September 11, 2001.
The mere fact that it took this long for such legislation to even come to a vote is, in itself, disgraceful and hard to comprehend. Not passing the 9/11 Health and Compensation Act could accelerate the deaths of thousands and borders on the unimaginable.
It’s safe to presume that every adult American is still appreciative of the generous sacrifices made on that tragic day. Some, myself included, suspected that the devastation at Ground Zero would be the source of immediate and latent health problems for those who spent prolonged periods involved in rescue efforts, despite the Bush administration’s assurances that the air in the area was safe to breathe.
C’mon, you didn’t need a medical degree or be a Bachelor of Air Quality to assume that harmful materials, such as asbestos, from decades-old buildings destroyed that day would induce problems for those inhaling the lingering smoke and dust.
But no one — least of all the emergency workers — would ever suspect that any elected official would nitpick over parliamentary procedure before supporting funds for bona fide, long term medical care.
Republicans charged that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi played fast and loose with the rules, which prevented them from adding amendments. She apparently insisted on a two-thirds, instead of a simple majority to expedite the legislation, so they chose not to support the legislation.
Some Republicans said they wanted to make sure none of the money wound up in the hands of illegal immigrants. C’mon, anyone who volunteered at Ground Zero and subsequently became ill deserves health care compensation. I didn’t read the bill, but it surely must include conditions to thwart fraudulent claims. ‘Cause you know when there’s money to be had, freeloaders always devise scams for a piece of the pie.
Nonetheless, who would ever think that only a dozen Republicans would support the measure for well-earned care and benefits? The actual vote was 255-159 (four Democrats voted against it).
The GOP is currently pushing to extend Bush tax cuts for anyone with an income over $200,000, which could total more than $600 billion, yet they balk at helping the ailing heroes of America’s worst domestic disaster? Talk about being out of touch!
Angry GOP members defended their actions claiming that the bill was “open to abuse, fraud and waste.” But aren’t other budget items — such as the annual Pentagon budget for one — loaded with wasteful items? Do they really believe that a lifeline for heroes in poor health is wasteful?
Weiner contends that over 900 first responders have already died from causes brought on by their work on 9/11 and it’s estimated more are likely to die in the years to come. The legislation will hopefully ease the suffering of the afflicted and help reduce the number expected to perish in years to come.
And for anyone who thinks the funding is mostly for New Yorkers — not that it should make a difference — it’s estimated that the thousands who volunteered at Ground Zero came from Congressional districts across the country.
It would be unconscionable for Congress not to set aside partisan politics and swiftly enact the 9/11 Health and Compensation Act when it reconvenes after a summer hiatus. Representatives with a conscience will hopefully rethink their nay vote, have a change of heart and heed Rep. Weiner, who accused them of “not doing the right thing on behalf of heroes…” then added, “This is your moment to repay the debt we owe them.”
The tainted dust that overwhelmed lower Manhattan nine years ago dissipated long ago, but the lingering health problems it produced need an urgent commitment from our federal legislators — not political football — before the air is suitably cleared.