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N.Y. Lawmakers Try to Save 9/11 Fund From Budget Ax

In an emotional example of Congress seeking to exempt a popular program from year-end budget cuts, New York lawmakers are pushing the Obama administration to preserve money for victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

New York Democratic Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand joined Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D), Jerrold Nadler (D) and Peter King (R) in a letter asking the Office of Management and Budget to exempt from budget cuts funds for those survivors and first responders who faced adverse health consequences as a result of exposure to toxins at ground zero. The letter was publicly released today.

The compensation programs the lawmakers want to exempt from the reductions mandated by the debt limit deal are just two of a slew of priorities that Senators and Members would like to guard from the $109 billion in spending cuts looming for 2013. The popularity of the programs in question, however, underscores the reason that most everyone wants to find a solution to block the cutbacks.

“This is one of the most poignant examples of why we must work to avert the sequester,” Schumer said. “We can entirely avoid this problem if both parties agree to support a balanced deficit reduction plan that includes revenues as well as sensible savings.  But in the event that they don’t, we must work to make sure there that the burden does not fall on the national heroes who are finally receiving the help they deserve through the Zadroga Act.”

Schumer and the other lawmakers noted that OMB has already exempted veterans and health programs.

“We all agree that applying sequestration to these two programs does not make sense, is not consistent with Congressional intent, does not follow precedent regarding trust funds provided for victims, and we would urge OMB to reconsider this initial finding if it is required to proceed with a sequester,” the lawmakers wrote in the Sept. 28 letter to Acting OMB Director Jeffrey Zients.

The letter was dated two weeks after OMB released a Congressionally-mandated report on details of the planned budget cuts.

“We have come too far and our 9/11 heroes have endured too much for this funding to be subjected to a bureaucratic reduction,” King said.  “It would be a cruel hoax to finally allow these individuals to start their necessary treatment, only to find out they will not be able to continue it through no fault of their own.”

The lawmakers and other program supporters make an argument that, if accepted, could undermine the sequester more broadly. They contend that because the underlying law that set up the compensation fund was budget neutral — and actually scored as reducing the deficit by $433 million — the program should avoid the meat ax.

“Given that it was fully PAYGO compliant and in fact in the end will lead to over $400 million in deficit reduction we do not believe that subjecting the two programs to sequester is proper or consistent with the precedent set by similar health and compensation programs provided to injured workers,” the lawmakers wrote.

Other measures with similar funding laws could also seek exemptions, meaning that the percentage reduction in other programs would need to increase to make the math work.

“Our 9/11 heroes who answered the call of duty should be treated with the same dignity as our veterans,” Gillibrand said. “Just as we have come together as Democrats and Republicans to fight for our heroes, I urge our colleagues to do the same and work towards a balanced approach that keeps struggling families from sacrificing the most.”

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