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Congress Shorted 9/11 Responders By $12 Billion

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 11/11/2015 Michael McAuliff
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WASHINGTON -- When Congress rushed to finish a 9/11 health and compensation bill in 2010, just before Christmas, supporters of the legislation were forced to scale back their proposals to win over skeptical Republicans.

Now the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has revealed how much 9/11 responders were shorted in that deal -- somewhere between $11.5 billion and $14.5 billion.

The CBO came up with those figures in estimating how much it would cost to replace the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, which started to expire this year, and, according to the CBO estimate released Tuesday evening, was never fully funded from the start. 

Almost five years ago, the Zadroga Act set aside $2.8 billion to compensate victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and $1.6 billion to treat illness.

The new estimate for what it would cost to pay for a permanent bill that meets all the the needs came in at $8 billion to $11 billion more for compensation, and about $3.5 billion more to treat the cancers, lung ailments, and other illnesses afflicting survivors.

"We now know how much a permanent Zadroga Act will cost," said Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), one of the original sponsors of the legislation.

"The next step is getting agreement how we will pay for it so that it doesn't impact the budget deficit," she added. "We are committed to fully offsetting the cost of this bill in a bipartisan way. September 11 first responders didn't hesitate to rush into the flames or help with the recovery effort. They didn't ask how much it would cost them or their families -- they gave selflessly. Congress has a responsibility to get this done."

The new bill Maloney and others have proposed would fully meet that need, and it has strong bipartisan support in the House and Senate, where 244 representatives and 65 senators have signed on as sponsors.

But that bill has yet to advance, and committee chairmen in the House have begun to advance their own versions. One bill drafted by House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) calls for another temporary compensation fund, again spending $2.8 billion. That would leave the fund short by up to $8 billion, based on the CBO estimate.

The Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over the health treatment component of the legislation, has not advanced a formal proposal yet, but floated a draft document also calling for another five-year program. That would leave the treatment effort about $2 billion short of anticipated costs.

“What the CBO score clearly shows is that Chairman Goodlatte's bill and the Commerce Committee's discussion draft do not come close to providing what is needed by the thousands of injured and ill 9/11 responders and survivors for their health care and support," said Benjamin Chevat, executive director of the advocacy group Citizens for the Extension of the James Zadroga Act, which maintains a database for people to contact supporters and opponents of the bill.

"Only the bipartisan H.R. 1786 and S. 928 does that," he said.

Neither Goodlatte's office nor a spokesman for the Energy and Commerce Committee answered emails requesting comment sent on the Veteran's Day recess.

Michael McAuliff covers Congress and politics for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook .

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