Democrats Aghast Over GOP Blocking 9/11 Responders Bill

December 9, 2010 10:26 a.m.
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The Senate Republicans did what they said they’d do today — they blocked a bill aimed at providing over $7 billion in federal money for 9/11 responders and their families because it came before a vote on taxes. But despite the almost scripted outcome, Democratic Senators behind the bill seemed shocked at the outcome.

“We are gravely disappointed,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), a key sponsor of the bill, told reporters following the failed cloture vote. “When every Senator on the Republican side signed a letter saying no business can be done until they had a vote a vote on a tax issue, I find [it] to be morally reprehensible.”

Sen. Chris Coons, a Democratic Senator from Delaware for all of three weeks, said the bill was the first one he chose to co-sponsor. The fact that the GOP stopped it in its tracks (for now, at least) was a surprise, he said.

“If patriotism means anything, if respect for the victims of 9/11 means anything, it should mean this,” he said. “This Senate should be able to come together across this shocking partisan divide and support a bill such as this.”Other Senators from the states most affected by the legislation — New York and New Jersey — were equally strong in their condemnation of the Republican decision to stand in the way of the bill as part of the effort to stand united on tax cuts.

“This is a sad day for America,” Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said. “There should not be political considerations…You can’t gloss it over. Today’s vote was a tremendous disappointment.”

In a statement to reporters, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the Republican decision to block was a shock as well.

“Republicans denied adequate health care to the heroes who developed illnesses from rushing into burning buildings on 9/11,” He said. “Yet they will stop at nothing to give tax breaks to millionaires and CEOs, even though they will explode our deficit and fail to create jobs.”

“That tells you everything you need to know about their priorities,” Reid added.

Republican leadership in the Senate did not respond to a request for comment. In the past, as the New York Times reports, “Republicans have been raising concerns about how to pay for the $7.4 billion measure.”

Today’s blocking of the benefits for responders sickened or injured on the job cleaning up and recovering bodies from the 9/11 ruins may not be an end to Gillibrand’s bill, however. Democrats expressed hope that the Senate could return to the measure after tax cuts are done — or perhaps attach it to tax cut deal itself. With a crowded legislative calendar, however, and time running out on the lame duck session, the Democrats expressed only cautious hope that the bill might be completed after today’s setback.

“Because this cause is so important, we will keep fighting and fighting,” Schumer said. “And we beg, we implore, we plead with our Republican colleagues: for the sake of those weekly who are discovering cancer in their lungs and in their intestinal tracts because they rushed to help us on the days after 9/11, don’t turn your back.”

“They are American heroes,” Schumer added.

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