WASHINGTON – Advocates were furious but not conceding defeat after the Senate on Thursday blocked a bill providing health benefits and compensation to ground zero workers and residents sickened or killed by inhaling fumes from the destroyed World Trade Center towers.
“I’m outraged but I remain optimistic this bill gets done by the end of the year,” said John Feal, a construction worker who was sickened and is leader of the Fealgood Foundation, which has organized support for the bill and packed most congressional hearings on the issue.
The James Zadroga Act, named after a New York City police detective believed to be the first person to die from the mixture of asbestos, pulverized glass and chemicals in the air, needed 60 votes for Senate debate to end and a final vote to take place. It got 57.
There were 42 “no” votes, including all the Republicans voting and Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., a supporter who voted that way because procedurally it would allow him to bring it back up for a vote.
Republicans, including one who voted for the bill in September when he was serving in the House, stuck to their pledge to oppose action on any measure until the Senate takes up extensions of tax cuts due to expire on Jan. 1.
House sponsors of the Zadroga Act, which passed in September, said they would try to attach it to the tax-extensions bill, which must pass by the end of the year. Senators held out hope they’d get another vote next week, and several Republicans who said they were supportive would join in voting “yes.”
“I hope there will be one more vote, because then there would be no more excuses,” said Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J.
Menendez and other longtime co-sponsors of the bill complained that Republican opponents repeatedly raised issues with the bill and then refused to provide support after their issues were addressed.
The $7.4 billion bill would be paid for in the House version by changing the way some foreign companies with U.S. subsidiaries are taxed. The Senate was considering a different mechanism.
“This was a vote where politics were put above people,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.
Feal took aim at those who voted no. “I’d like to buy 42 red noses and slap them on the faces of every one of them,” Feal said. “I can’t call them senators. I call them clowns.”