Lawmakers nearing deal on 9/11 responder benefits bill
House negotiators are nearing an agreement on legislation extending compensation and health benefits to the victims of 9/11 and its aftermath.
The effort to reauthorize the James Zadroga Act has been set back by disagreements over the length of renewal and the question of how to pay the multi-billion dollar tab.
But Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, predicted late Tuesday that the bill will pass by year's end.
"I am pleased to advise that we are close to a final deal with the sponsors of the original Zadroga Act in order to provide a fully-funded five year extension of the 9/11 VCF," Goodlatte said in a brief statement. "Most of the major issues have been resolved, but we are continuing our talks with all stakeholders in order to have a final bill completed by the end of the year."
Goodlatte's panel has jurisdiction over the September 11th Victims Compensation Fund (VCF), which covers losses for those injured — or for relatives of those killed — by the attacks.
He's been working with the sponsors of a Zadroga renewal bill — notably Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) — on a plan to move the bill this year, but the sides have had disagreements over the scope of the funding.
Goodlatte has pushed a proposal providing $2.775 billion to reauthorize the fund for five additional years. An initial version of that bill covered the costs by tapping into money seized from state sponsors of terror.
His brief statement Tuesday did not specify if that offset remains in place.
King's bill, sponsored with Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), extends the VCF permanently and provides billions more to meet all the fund's estimated obligations. Their proposal is funded largely by closing a loophole that allows foreign insurance companies to avoid fees currently paid by domestic companies.
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates Congress will need to allocate between $4.5 and $7.5 billion above current law to meet the VCF's obligations.
The other major component of the Zadroga law is the World Trade Center Health Program, which provides healthcare benefits for emergency and cleanup workers who responded to the 9/11 attacks. That portion falls under the jurisdiction of the Energy and Commerce Committee, led by Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.).
King has said Upton and other Republicans on the panel are open to a permanent extension of the program, on par with the King-Maloney bill.
There have been no announcements about legislation vehicles for moving the Zadroga bill. But with the clock ticking down on 2015, it seems more and more likely that it would be attached to a sweeping omnibus spending bill.