Compromise By Congress Helps 9/11 Responders
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On a Thursday before Christmas, it's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.
LINDA WERTHEIMER, Host:
And I'm Linda Wertheimer.
The Congress did something yesterday that it almost never does. Both chambers - the House and the Senate - debated and passed the same bill on the same day. That is supersonic for Congress. The bill provides health care funding for first responders on 9/11 who are now suffering diseases linked to their work following the 2001 attacks. NPR's Andrea Seabrook has that story.
ANDREA SEABROOK: The fact that Congress worked out a compromise and passed this bill yesterday some called a Christmas miracle - though that may say more about what we think of Congress than the holiday season. And skepticism wouldn't have been misplaced. It almost didn't happen. Just last week, Arizona Republican Senator John Kyl complained that debating and passing this bill would be almost impossible.
JOHN KYL: Without disrespecting one of the two holiest of holidays for Christians and the families of all of the Senate.
SEABROOK: But then the pressure started, and it came at Senate Republicans from all sides. A group of firefighters and policemen who responded to the 9/11 attacks and worked in the months of debris that followed began making the rounds of Capitol Hill, drumming up support. They got friends and family to call Senate offices and write emails. And they had one friend in particular who jumped into their fight - Jon Stewart, the comedian who hosts "The Daily Show" on Comedy Central.
Stewart had a bunch of first responders on his show, including firefighter Kenny Speck, and he let them respond to Senator Kyl's statement about working on Christmas.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE DAILY SHOW")
JON STEWART: Do you have any thoughts on that?
KENNY SPECK: It just goes to show the disconnect between those we elect to represent us and those that get out there and do the work. Because I'm here to say that you won't find a single New York City firefighter who considers it a sign of disrespect to work in a New York City firehouse on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.
(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)
SEABROOK: Stewart then grilled a Fox News commentator about why the network wasn't hitting the issue as hard as it had other 9/11 stories. And within a few days of that, Fox News did ramp up its coverage.
(SOUNDBITE OF FOX NEWS BROADCAST)
MARTHA MCCALLUM: Good morning, everybody. I'm Martha McCallum. Well, supporters of this bill are hoping for a, quote, "Christmas miracle" today, before lawmakers head home for the holidays.
SEABROOK: The new law will put $4.2 billion into two programs - the Victims Compensation Fund and a new World Trade Center health program. That will screen, monitor and treat first responders and other workers suffering from diseases related to the attacks and the months of clean-up.
Republicans in both the House and Senate had opposed, mainly because of its cost. But by the time the bill got to the House yesterday evening, it was obvious they were feeling politically bruised by the issue.
MICHAEL BURGESS: I would like to take a few moments and clear up some of the mischaracterizations that have occurred unfortunately around the debate of this bill.
SEABROOK: Texas Republican Representative Michael Burgess.
BURGESS: There have been some that have claimed that my side, the Republicans, do not support providing treatment for 9/11 first responders and that these first responders are currently going without treatment. Both of those claims are simply not true.
SEABROOK: Burgess argued that the 9/11 workers are already being treated by local and state programs. Other Republicans objected to the way the new funds are paid for, especially a 2 percent tax on foreign companies selling goods to the U.S. government. Kevin Brady of Texas said that could harm the Iraq and Afghanistan war effort.
KEVIN BRADY: Levying additional taxes on companies that support American troops is both illogical and dangerous.
SEABROOK: But with the metric tons of pressure Republicans were feeling, Democrats didn't have to work too hard to bring the bill to a final vote. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi climbed the dais to gavel closed one of the last votes of this Congress.
NANCY PELOSI: On this vote the yays are 206, the nays are 60. The motion is adopted.
SEABROOK: Now, if your focus is the politics, you might call this one last major win for Democrats before they hand over to the Republicans the majority they lost in the November elections. If your focus is the policy, it's the first responders who won, but only after a tough fight to get their cause recognized by the media and the Congress.
Andrea Seabrook, NPR News.
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