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9/11 Responder Health Care Renewal Gets a Boost

Feal, left, and Stewart, right, have been calling for renewal. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Feal, left, and Stewart, right, have been calling for renewal. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The effort to renew health care programs for those who responded to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks is moving closer to a resolution, with some New York Republicans saying Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., has assured his colleagues the renewal would be in the year-end spending package.  

Rep. Peter T. King, R-N.Y., told Roll Call that during the GOP meeting Thursday morning, Ryan “was going over what looks [like] is going to be in the omnibus. And then he said, ‘For those of you concerned about 9/11 health care … that will be in the omnibus.’” King said he approached Ryan after the meeting to ask if everything was going fine with the negotiations over the renewal and Ryan said yes. King also said he didn’t plan on discussing this publicly, but the word was already out that Ryan suggested the year-end spending package would be the vehicle for renewal.  

Freshman Rep. Dan Donovan, R-N.Y., tweeted just before 11:30 a.m., “Very good news to report: @SpeakerRyan told me #Zadroga will be in large spending bill to pass next week,” referring to the “James L. Zadroga 9/11 Health & Compensation Act,” which established the World Trade Center Health Program and the Victims Compensation Fund. On Wednesday, Congress started making plans to extend the government funding deadline through Dec. 16 in the form of a short-term spending bill. The current continuing resolution expires Friday.  

Despite that, House Republican leadership hadn’t committed to a specific vehicle for the 9/11 bill as of Thursday morning. “Speaker Ryan has committed to reauthorize the program and he will keep his word. We expect it will be included in one of the year-end legislative items,” Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong told Roll Call.  

King was cautiously optimistic. “Until a bill is voted on, until it’s passed, I’m not going to be claiming any victory here,” he said.  

Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, D-N.Y., an original sponsor of the legislation, said Ryan’s statement was a positive development, but said in a phone interview, “All of us are cautious.”  

King said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., is “the guy in the room for us on this.” Thursday morning, Schumer said the likelihood that a measure to permanently extend the health care program, and renew the compensation fund for five years, was “high but not certain.”  

“I’m not going to get into the specifics of the negotiations, but we’re close on the pay-fors,” Schumer told reporters. He later added, “The way this works: one major player objects and says, ‘I want it this way, not that way,’ and you have trouble. And we’ve had a few of those, not too many, but enough that we don’t have a deal yet.”  

As negotiations continue, lawmakers and advocates have been continuing to rally support around the Zadroga bill. Schumer and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., stood in the Russell Senate Office Building Rotunda Thursday morning with New York Police Commissioner William Bratton and several representatives from the department to call on Congress to act on the bill. On Wednesday night, Maloney attempted to call attention to the issue by wearing a yellow and black firefighter’s jacket to the House floor during evening votes.  

Comedian Jon Stewart, who pushed for the original Zadroga bill to be passed in 2010 returned to Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” on Tuesday night to raise awareness about the issue. He called out Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., as the two people who could move renewal forward, and urged viewers to push on social media for action using “#WorstResponders.”  

John Feal, a demolition supervisor who worked on Ground Zero and is head of the FealGood Foundation, which has been pushing for the health care renewal, said they were going to keep an eye on negotiations.  

Feal said McConnell’s chief of staff phoned him Wednesday night, and that Feal put a hold on a rally in Kentucky that was set for Friday. Last week, Feal and other first responders’ had a contentious meeting with staff and McConnell, after a deal to attach renewal to the transportation bill fell apart.  

“I’m going to give Mitch McConnell the benefit of the doubt,” Feal said Thurday. “It’s good to know that his staff is now involved.”  

A small team of advocates will remain in the District of Columbia over the weekend, to jump into actions if the negotiations break down. Feal said they were confident the programs would be renewed.  

He also said first responders would likely go to Ryan’s office later on Thursday, to hear it from the speaker himself that this would be included in the omnibus.  

“We learned a long time ago to not so much trust words but trust their actions,” Feal said.  

He later added, “But you know it’s sad because every time we get to the one yard line, they move the goal line. And it’s ugly and it’s politics at its worse.”

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