WASHINGTON — Republican senators blocked Democratic legislation on Thursday that sought to provide medical care to rescue workers and others who became ill as a result of breathing in toxic fumes, dust and smoke at the site of the 9/11 World Trade Center attack.
The 9/11 health bill, a version of which was approved by the House of Representatives in September, was among several initiatives that Senate Democrats had hoped to approve before the close of the 111th Congress. Supporters believe this was their last real opportunity to have the bill passed.
The action by the Senate created huge uncertainty over the bill’s future. Its proponents were working on Thursday to salvage the legislation, with one possibility being to have it inserted into a large tax-cut bill that Republicans and Democrats are trying to pass before Congress ends its current session.
But such a move seemed unlikely, since it might complicate passage of the tax package, which includes another provision that Democrats, including President Barack Obama, sought in return for supporting the extension of tax cuts for all income levels that Republicans wanted: a continuation of unemployment benefits for jobless Americans.
In a vote largely along party lines, the Senate rejected a procedural move by Democrats to end debate on the 9/11 health bill and to bring it to a vote; 60 yes votes were needed, but the move received only 57, with 42 votes against.
Republicans have been raising concerns about how to pay for the $7.4 billion measure, while Democrats, led by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, have argued there was a moral obligation to assist those who put their lives at risk during rescue and cleanup operations at ground zero.
The bill is formally known as the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, named after a NY police detective who participated in the rescue efforts at ground zero.