9/11 heroes suffer, and a ruthless congressman shrugs | Editorial
If the U.S. House of Representatives has an outstanding talent, it is its ability to reveal ugliness where no one ever thought to look for it.
It changed leadership last week, yet progress can still be hijacked by a self-absorbed misanthrope masquerading as a budget hawk.
The latest example was the anvil dropped on the reauthorization of the Zadroga Act, which provides health care for 9/11 victims and first responders. The bill has overwhelming support from both parties - it has 240 cosponsors in the House (including 60 Republicans) and a bullet-proof super majority in the Senate.
And everyone in this bipartisan group understands that the 30,000 people with multiple, chronic conditions caused by the exposure to toxins at Ground Zero - including 4,800 people from New Jersey – will need special care for the rest of their lives.
They understand this is an American problem, with victims from all 50 states, and they know this legislative solution is not radical: We take care of workers with dangerous jobs (Black Lung Benefits Act, Radiation Exposure Compensation Act, etc.), especially heroes who risked their lives to help humanity while most of us watched from home, paralyzed by grief.
But now, a few Republican congressmen want to put an expiration date on their health care. Think about that: Tens of thousands of people with a stew of toxic dust in their systems, dying by the month from diseases we cannot pronounce, will be denied the certainty that comes guaranteed care because the House Judiciary Committee is blocking the legislation.
Its chairman, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), submitted his own bill that extends the Victim Compensation Fund for only five years, at funding levels that slashes benefits by 60 percent, according to Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.). Similar cuts are made by another alternate bill from the Energy and Commerce Committee, which also has a five-year sunset.
In Goodlatte's world – which includes a district that is home to 26 first responders, according to reports - we should not commit to a permanent extension because there is no guarantee the Zadroga Act will operate soundly. If it causes anxiety for those people in need of medication and specialists – plus those who may one day develop mesothelioma from the 400 tons of asbestos released at Ground Zero – that's just their tough luck.
You expect this from a career back-bencher like Goodlatte. It would be nice to think his stonewalling of Zadroga is a matter of principle, but it's unclear whether he actually stands for anything.
His voting record is a veritable killing field of scary big government things that haunt his dreams: He voted against the original Zadroga Act, voted against Sandy relief, voted against reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act, voted against raising the debt ceiling, voted against Wall Street reform, voted against the DREAM Act.
House leadership can thwart Goodlatte by putting Zadroga reauthorization up for a vote. Until that happens, we'll assume that typifies the Ryan speakership: more obstruction and obfuscation, more phony platitudes, and more blogs on Goodlatte's website about prayer for 9/11 victims and vigilance against terrorists.
The usual sophistry and mush, disguised as leadership. Government at work.