We are coming down to the end of the 111th Congress, and we are all surprised that a number of things actually got done: a nuclear arms reduction treaty appears to be on the verge of approval, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was repealed; we have new health care and financial reforms (admittedly, they’re imperfect solutions, but…), food safety reform, a better way to do student loans, and a credit card reform act that’s forcing issuers to spend thousands of labor hours to develop new and better ways to work over consumers.
And yet there is one important bit of legislation that is still being blocked by Republicans, and, amazingly enough, it’s a bill that would provide health care and compensation for those people who ran down to the World Trade Center site on September 11th, and for months thereafter, in the effort to rescue and recover victims, and to restore normal operations in the city after the attack.
Yes, folks, you heard me correctly: the Party of waving flags and “Second Amendment solutions” and tri-cornered hats and Rudy (“noun, verb, 9/11”) Giuliani is now engaged in a desperate battle to screw over the very 9/11 first responders that you would think they would be…well, putting up on a stage somewhere next to Rudy Giuliani.
“…no! You hear me? You go to Hell! You go to Hell and you die!”
–“Mr. Garrison”, as “Mr. Hat”, talking to “Kyle”, from the television show “South Park“
It’s HR 847, also known as the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, that we’re talking about here, and it’s intended to provide health care coverage and compensation for the police, firefighters, trade workers (lots of carpenters, electricians, plumbers, operating engineers, steelworkers, and others worked on the site after the planes hit), and nearby residents who have been experiencing a litany of cancers, heart disease, respiratory, and neurological problems over the past several years.
Who, you might ask, is James Zadroga, that they should name an Act after him?
He carried NYPD badge number 6663, and Detective Zadroga was one of those who was part of the initial World Trade Center response that morning; they were able to get about 25,000 people out of the buildings alive and basically unhurt.
He was actually inside 7 World Trade Center as it began to collapse, but he got out of there that day; according to the Officer Down Memorial Page website he spent another 470 hours sifting through the debris.
Here’s something else the website says about the man:
“Shortly after finishing his rescue and recovery work at the World Trade Center, Detective Zadroga developed a chronic cough, shortness of breath, acid reflux, and was plagued by headaches. Within months he required oxygen tanks to breathe as well as other medicines to slow the deterioration of his health. His condition continued to worsen and Detective Zadroga was granted a 75% pay disability pension on November 1, 2004.
Detective Zadroga died on January 6, 2006, as a result of respiratory disease, black lung disease, and mercury on the brain. His death was directly linked to his work at Ground Zero.”
So why is a New York City cop’s biography an issue?
Well, for a variety of reasons, Zadroga, and others in similar situations, aren’t getting their health care paid for; this is often because their health insurers claim that this is an industrial insurance problem. (The industrial insurance folks, by the way, are fighting 40% of those claims.)
Beyond that, lots of the victims are losing the ability to work altogether, which means they’re getting by on either unemployment or disability payments, which means they’re in danger of losing their homes and cars and the ability to continue their former lives.
And, of course, some of these folks have died, and there are claims that have been made by survivors.
The Zadroga Bill would compensate these folks for what happened to them-and you wouldn’t think helping out the cops and firefighters and volunteers who helped dig out the World Trade Center site would be that big a deal…especially since all those Republicans are so big on supporting the troops and waving the flag and landing on aircraft carriers and accomplishing missions and all that kind of stuff.
As it turns out, that’s not the case.
Instead, every single Senate Republican, with the exception of Illinois’ Mark Kirk, has chosen not to support the bill.
And to really show just how ironic they could be, Republicans chose Senator (and Doctor) Tom Coburn of Oklahoma to announce that he would personally block the bill to provide “healthcare for heroes”:
“…this is a bill that’s been drawn up and forced through Congress at the end of the year on a basis to solve a problem that we didn’t have time to solve and we didn’t get done.”
(We are obligated to note that Coburn’s “end of the year” comment is a giant load of hooey: In June, the Senate Health Committee held a hearing on the bill; Coburn is a member of that Committee but he did not show up for the hearing.)
So with everything else getting done in the lame-duck session, what’s the problem with helping cops and firefighters and volunteer cleanup workers?
At first, of course, Republicans demanded that rich people had to get their tax cuts first, then they said they couldn’t support closing tax loopholes to pay for the bill. After that, Fox News tried to get roughly 20 Republican Senators to come on and explain their objections.
Every one refused, a fact Shepard Smith brought to the attention of the Fox Nation by naming them all on the air. In fact, things are so bad that Smith and Chris Wallace had this exchange of opinions one night:
Smith: “Who’s going to hold these people’s feet to the fire? We’re able to put a 52-story building so far down there at Ground Zero, we’re able to pay for tax cuts for billionaires who don’t need them and it’s not going to stimulate the economy. But we can’t give health care to Ground Zero first responders who ran right into the fire? You know how do they how do they sleep at night after this vote on uh ground zero first responders from 9/11? Are they going to get that done or are we going to leave these American heroes out there to twist in the wind?”
Wallace: “Well, it’s a good question and it’s a national shame. The idea that, you know, the people who were there were the first responders after 9/11 and have had health problems as a result — you would think if you are going to take care of all of these other things – and they were gonna pass these earmarks and name buildings and post offices after people – that they would take care of some authentic American heroes. But, that I don’t know what the deal is and whether they will get to that or not.”
Smith: “[T]hese people ran to ground zero to save people’s lives and we are not even going to give ’em medicine for the illness that they got down there? It’s disgusting – it’s a national disgrace – it’s a shame – and everybody who voted against it should have to stand up for and account for himself or herself. Is anybody going to hold them accountable?”
To his credit, Rudy Giuliani has been out there this past week, working the media, calling for the bill to pass:
“This should not be seen as a Democratic or Republican issue. It shouldn’t even been seen as a fiscal issue. This is a matter of morality, it’s a matter of obligation…”
So what can you do about all this?
It appears there may be a vote today; the more pressure we exert, the more shameful it becomes to be Tom Coburn, John Kyl, and Mitch McConnell-and if you want to give a Christmas gift to a bunch of real, live, genuine heroes, here’s your chance to do it.
Tom Coburn’s Washington DC Senate office phone number is 202-224-5754, and I’m sure the staff would love nothing better than to spend the entire day hearing what y’all have to say about this situation. When you’re done, Jon Kyl’s Washington number is 202-224-4521-and for those who wish to make a statement with art, he accepts faxes as well, at 202-224-2207.
It’s hard to imagine how Republicans can top screwing over rescue workers at Christmas-but with a bit of effort and imagination, I’m sure it won’t be long before Dana Perino is on “Fox and Friends” defending something even more heinous in the name of Truth, Justice, and the American Way.
These are indeed interesting times, and I just can’t wait to see what’s next.