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October 30, 2014

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9/11 health care bill still on Reid’s agenda

So it appears the lame duck session is boiling down to a standoff over one final bill — once the Senate ratifies the START treaty today that is. But this is no normal political fistfight.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has peeled a few things off of his closing agenda, but one thing he has refused to give way on is a bill that would pay for health care for 9/11 first responders. About 70 percent of the professionals and laypeople who ran into the burning buildings to pull others from the rubble of the worst terror attack on U.S. soil have sustained various sorts of health ailments from the work that they did — most being respiratory ailments from breathing in so much smoldering ash.

It’s a bill with head-spinning widespread support, and not just from traditionally pro-health care Democrats: Fox News has been all-out stumping for this piece of legislation for the last week as well, going so far as to call out the 17 Republicans opposing the measure to help the 9/11 “heroes” in a public naming-and-shaming campaign.

Senator John Ensign is among them.

“This is not politics or Republicans or Democrats or liberal or conservative,” former New York mayor and Republican presidential candidate Rudy Guilliani said on Fox last week. “It is about people who got seriously injured because of the work they did down there. It is something we owe them.”

But it is, to the opponents at least, about spending.

Republican Senators opposed an attempt by Reid to bring the bill to a vote earlier this month, on the grounds of a pact that they’d all signed not to agree to anything before the tax and budget bills were concluded.

Now that that’s done, many Republicans are expected to change their vote — but even that may not be enough.

Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma (yes, the same one that wants to pull the plug on the Neon Boneyard) has complained that the bill creates a “new entitlement” and is only paid for by tweaking the tax system.

It’s a tactical move that can’t outright kill the bill, but is likely being attempted in the hope that Reid’s will will wear thin.

Once the START treaty is voted on — a vote that is expected to take place later today — the 9/11 bill will be the only piece of legislation left on Reid’s must-address agenda.

The 9/11 bill comes up for a procedural vote today, but even if it secures the 60-plus filibuster-proof votes necessary, Coburn could still block it or a few days, Senator Charles Schumer said on MSNBC this morning.

“We won’t have enough members here to vote by then,” he explained.

But there’s a chance Coburn will agree, under massive political pressure from both sides of the aisle, to end his filibuster of the bill as early as this afternoon — in which case, this is likely going to be the last bit of legislation the 111th Congress addresses.

Which will surely come as welcome present, just in time for Christmas, for the Tri-Staters who stand to benefit.

“This is not politics or Republicans or Democrats or liberal or conservative,” former New York mayor and Republican presidential candidate Rudy Guilliani said on Fox last week. “It is about people who got seriously injured because of the work they did down there. It is something we owe them.”

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