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Backers Of New 9/11 Bill Link Effort To Paris Attacks

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 17/11/2015 Michael McAuliff
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WASHINGTON -- With reaction to the attacks in Paris as a backdrop, lawmakers and 9/11 responders made a new push Tuesday to pass a permanent 9/11 health bill, linking the effort to the terrorism in France.

The current James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act began expiring this year, and has only about half the money it needs, according to a recent official estimate. When the bill passed in 2010, backers had to settle for just a five-year measure because many Republicans at the time worried about potential abuse.

Abuse never materialized and there are now more than 33,000 responders getting treatment from the program, which will expire at the end of next year.

In appealing for a permanent version, several lawmakers and responders pointed to the Friday attacks in Paris as yet more evidence of why the country needs to show it will always care for others who were willing to sacrifice themselves.

"We just had a huge terrorist attack in Paris," said Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.). "We have all kinds of people saying we should send in the troops, etc. Are we going to tell those troops, if you get wounded, you're on your own?"

Several veterans groups joined the push as well to make the argument that just like the United States military doesn't leave soldiers behind, the country shouldn't forget its citizens who fight for it in other ways.

One of those present was Paul Rieckhoff, founder of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America -- who rushed to ground zero to help in the recovery after the 9/11 attacks.

"I never thought on that day that 14 years later, I'd have to stand with these people and beg for benefits. It's ridiculous, it's absurd, it's a national shame," he said, surrounded by firefighters, construction workers, police officers and numerous others. "It's equally ironic that we sit here now, a few days after Paris had their 9/11, to take care of the folks who responded to ours."

"What kind of message does it send to America if folks like this have to stand up in front of Congress and beg for health care support?" Rieckhoff said.

The permanent bill to replace the Zadroga Act has large majorities as sponsors in both the House and Senate. But some influential lawmakers, especially in the House, remain insistent on passing another five-year bill.

A bill in the House Judiciary Committee would leave the need billions of dollars short, according to the Congressional Budget Office. 

"I think there are too many House members who want to cut this bill short, make it a five-year bill, cover only some of the costs, not all of the costs of the diseases these men and women have. And I think that is cynical and outrageous," said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.).

Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), the bill's lead sponsor in the House, urged a swift passing of the legislation. 

"For those who lost their ability to work, their health, their very lives serving all of us, we must do the right thing for them and their families, and the right thing to do is to pass the bill now," Maloney said.

One reason that House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) is pushing for his bill is that it adds in benefits for victims of other terrorist attacks, such as the bombing of U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya.

Gillibrand, the lead sponsor of the Senate bill, said that would be easily accomplished in the Zadroga legislation. "We agree with that change, and we will accept that change, but we want to pass a permanent bill," she said.

Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.) said that he has spoken to the House leaders, and none have raised objections to the permanent bill, although he said some negotiations still needed to be finished.

"We have to get it done by the end of the year. We have to get it done by Dec. 11," King said. 

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