Fate of 9/11 First Responders Bill Could Hinge on Schumer

New Yorkers whose health was permanently damaged on 9/11 have to hope he will lobby for the bill's inclusion in the tax package
Sarah Laskow | December 10th, 2010

Sen. Chuck Schumer

New York’s representatives in Washington — some of them, at least — have been working for years to win funding for first responders suffering from health issues originating on 9/11. The most recent version of this bill, the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, would allocate more than $7 billion to help treat injuries from toxic exposure and compensate victims for job losses. The House’s version, sponsored by Rep. Carolyn Maloney, has passed, but the Senate — the place where all public policy goes to die these days —voted yesterday to put aside the measure.

New York’s House delegation came up with a last-minute rescue plan: tack the bill onto the tax bill that Congress must somehow pass before the end of this session. Now it’ll be up to Sen. Chuck Schumer to convince Senate leadership to go along with that plan, according to the Times.

On the Senate floor yesterday, Schumer criticized his colleagues’ unwillingness to support those injured in the line of duty on 9/11. But check out this 2007 Village Voice story (written by a former colleague of mine) on Schumer’s record on this issue: in short, it hasn’t always been stellar.

Ultimately, Congress’ reluctance to act on this bill is connected to the ambivalence in Washington about New York’s privileged place in the post-9/11 homeland security world. Since 2001, homeland security has been a top issue for many of New York’s representatives, particularly those from districts in or around Manhattan. Just this week, for instance, Long Island’s Rep. Peter King was named chair of the House Homeland Security Committee: King has spent the past nine years focusing on homeland security and honing his expertise on the range of issues it covers, in part because, as a representative from New York, it makes sense for him. It’s an issue his constituents care about, deeply.

But others in Congress have been less willing to concede that New York should get the lion’s share of attention — and funding — for homeland security. One of the very first homeland security battle in Congress, post-9/11, was over whether every state should get a baseline share of the new homeland security-directed money, or whether that funding should be determined primarily based on risk. The current system for distributing funding more closely resembles the first system than the latter, which means New York loses out.

The 9/11 health bill depended, in a way, on that same logic: that New York and New Yorkers still deserves some extra support from the lingering trauma suffered in 2001. And, not so surprisingly, a majority of our country’s representatives agree! The House passed the bill, and 58 out of 100 Senators support the measure.

But right now, the way Washington works, that’s not enough. Instead, New Yorkers whose health was permanently damaged on 9/11 have to hope that Sen. Schumer feels the measure is important enough to really work at convincing Harry Reid that it’s important enough to include in the tax package. But if Sen. Schumer doesn’t prioritize this work, the bill could very well die, forever.