Republican Senators Screw Up On 9/11 Aid Bill

They're playing politics over tax cuts when they should be helping national heroes

I went to a Christmas party this weekend unlike any other Christmas party. This was a party thrown by heroes for heroes. Gathered in the hall of the Deer Park Fire Department in Long Island were the families of those who rushed to the site that we now call Ground Zero. The 9/11 First Responders have the party every year to make certain that the families of those who are sick, those who are dying and those who have died from the toxins of that day don’t struggle through the holidays. They take care of each other because their country has turned its back on them.

The 9/11 First Responders are getting a lot of attention these days after a bill to help them failed to get enough votes in the Senate last week. Of all of the bills being held hostage by the Republicans until they get Bush tax cuts extended, the 9/11 Health and Compensation Bill is the one that has stirred the most outrage.

[SIGNUP]”We are not talking about the bill tonight,” announced John Feal, president and founder of the Fealgood Foundation, the organization paying for the party. The Foundation was set up six years ago to give support to and lobby for those who have been infected by the poisons of 9/11. John Feal was on the pile of rubble that once was the World Trade Center when a giant steel beam fell and took off half of his foot. He considers himself lucky. Since that time, he has been at the bedside of many friends who have been taken by the poisons of the pile. Feal donated a kidney to try and save the life of a fellow First Responder. Nine-hundred and ninety people have died from respiratory illnesses and cancer directly tied to the dust and debris caused by the attacks. Thousands more are sick and dying. Losing half of a foot may have saved John Feal’s life as he was exposed to the toxic dust and emissions for only a day.

For the past six years, Feal and his Foundation have been lobbying Washington to set aside money in a 9/11 First Responders Health and Compensation fund to care for the first heroes to respond. This is the closest he has ever come and now the bill is buried in the debris of partisan politics. Feal is understandably angry: “These senators should be charged with manslaughter if they don’t pass this bill.” Feal and his lobbyists have spoken with Republican senators who are supportive and say they will vote for the bill, but they are being told by their leadership that they can’t right now.

Feal doesn’t get it. “I don’t understand because that is the talk of cowards. I deal with heroes who do the right thing no matter the consequences.”

And the consequences have been great for the 9/11 First Responders. Much of the 7.4 billion dollars in the bill would go to repay the men and women for salaries, pensions and benefits lost. As I looked around the fire hall I saw children who have suffered as a parent slowly wasted away in front of them. They face an uncertain future simply because that parent showed an uncommon bravery, because that parent responded to a call when America needed them most. These children face an uncertain future because of politics.

The bill is not dead yet. It is expected to come up for a vote again within the next eight days, either on its own or as part of the Bush tax cut compromise bill. All six Democratic senators from our area — Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware — support the bill as there are thousands of First Responders in the Philadelphia area. But the bill will need two Republican votes to pass.

I wish the Republican senators could have been at the Deer Park Fire Department on Saturday night to see the faces of the children. I believe they would have been shamed into finally doing the right thing.
LARRY MENDTE writes for The Philly Post every Monday and Thursday. See his previous columns here. To watch his video commentaries, go to