House Democrats have been heavily criticizing Senator majority leader and Republican Mitch McConnell for allegedly holding up a piece of legislation to help fund health care for 9/11 first responders. the bill, known as the Zadroga Act, was designed to fund health insurance and other needs for first responders and workers on the day of and weeks after 9/11. It was named after James L. Zadroga, a 9/11 first responder who lost his life, and is designed to deal with health insurance and financial assistance to those affected.
As with any instance of partisan politics in the United States, Democrats in both houses of Congress have taken the opportunity to excoriate McConnell for his partisan actions. New York Senator Chuck Schumer, who has campaigned for this act’s renewal, stated:
It is just plain wrong to play politics with the healthcare of these 9/11 heroes. These brave men and women rushed headfirst into the towers to save the lives of others, which is why this bill has broad bipartisan support, a majority of both the House and the Senate, and needs to be passed right away,
Democrats wanted to fund the Zadroga Act through a must pass transportation bill that had wide bi-partisan support. With the potential of a government shutdown looming as the congressional session wraps up in December, Democrats wanted to fund the bill and avoid risking the Zadroga act running out of funding.
They were quick to point out that Senator McConnell and others had been quick to vote to defund the healthcare bill this week, attempt to defund Planned Parenthood, but did not seem to have time to deal with those who worked in dangerous and hazardous conditions on one of America’s darkest hours.
Senator McConnell has been tight lipped on the issue of the Zadroga Act, but has denied reports that he is delaying the bill from being passed as part of the previously discussed transportation bill.
Other Republicans such as Peter King from New York have stated a preference for extending funding through a tax extenders bill as there would be more “floating money,” to help pay for the act.
Other Republicans are indeed framing this as a fiscal responsibility issue, and have stated that they are more than happy to fund the bill but would like to see it paid for using cuts to Medicaid or other government programs rather than have the U.S government go further into debt to pay for it. All Republicans have expressed a desire to see the program to continue the program, but the question seems to be more logistical and political than any sort of substantive issue.
Senate Democrats insist that McConnell refused to pass the bill unless they agreed to lift a ban on domestic oil being used for export, and of course his office has denied this. It has also been speculated that the reason for passing Zadroga through a tax extenders bill will be to include spending cuts or new spending on something that Democrats will balk at, and having Zadroga as a bargaining chip would be highly advantageous.
First responders speak out
9/11 first responders and their representatives have lashed out at Senator McConnell, showing up to his office to lodge their frustrations. John Feal, a construction worker who lost half a foot on 9/11 and started a group to advocate for 9/11 first responders , stated “He wants to hold up our bill, and hijack it,”It’s deplorable. It’s disgusting.”
Richard Harmon, 59, is a former employee of Verizon who helped fix wires to get Wall Street back on line, was also there to tell his story. Harmon and his co-workers from that day were exposed to toxic dusk, and now Harmon has a rare form of thyroid cancer along with 4 others working with him that day. he stated “I wanna go home. I’ve been doing this for months now. I want to just go home, be with my family, and live out whatever life God wants to give.”
Politics as usual
Harmon and others who were there simply want to be able to pay their medical bills. Now they have found themselves caught up in a political firestorm that they want no part of. Whether the Democrats are using them to avoid a political fight over shutting down the government over Planned Parenthood’s funding, or whether Republicans are doing much the same. The first responders of 9/11 have no part in this though, and both Republicans and Democrats need to find a way to fund these individuals care without involving them in politics. Sometimes, things are bigger than politics.