Why is a Health Bill for 9/11 First Responders Stuck in Congress?
Members of the New York Congressional Delegation are continuing their push for a full reauthorization of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act.
Despite public outcry, intensive TV coverage and pressure from the likes of comedian Jon Stewart, the bill is being held up in Congress by two House Republican committee chairmen who are worried that a full on reauthorization could create a mandatory spending program that's not paid for in its entirety.
What is the Zadrogra Act?
The Zadroga Act that passed in 2011 re-opened the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund, a special fund set up by Congress to compensate people who were injured or got sick as a result of the attacks on the World Trade Center. The Zadroga act also created the World Trade Center Health Program which, among other things, "provides medical monitoring and treatment for emergency responders, recovery, and cleanup workers, and volunteers who helped after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the crash site near Shanksville, Pennsylvania."
So where do things stand in Congress?
In the Senate, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., is pushing a full re-authorization of the compensation fund and the health program, it is similar to the existing legislation that began to expire this past October. Right now the bill is bi-partisan and has 65 co-sponsors which makes it nearly veto proof.
In the House, New York representatives Republican Rep. Peter King and Democrats Rep. Jerry Nadler and Rep. Carolyn Maloney are all pushing a House equivalent of the full re-authorization Gillibrand bill. Since this program will allocate new spending, the rules are that the bill must start in the House. This bill has a clear majority with 244 co-sponsors.
Aides to Gillibrand and Nadler say their bill is fully paid for, however, the specifics have still not been made public.
So, what's the holdup?
House Judiciary Chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., pushing changes to the victims' compensation component of the legislation. He wants a five year re-authorization that allocate money for the 9/11 fund as well as provide money for victims of state sponsored terrorist attacks that aren't related to 9/11.
For example, his bill would offer funds to Americans affected by the terrorist bombings in Lebanon in 1983 and Kenya in 1998.
In conjunction with Goodlatte, House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., is moving legislation that would reauthorize the World Trade Center Health Program for five years.
Critics of these bills, like Gillibrand, King and Nadler say the measures underfund critical areas of the current programs and fails to make the programs permanent.
Where's Congressional Leadership on all of this?
House GOP Leadership aides tell NBC News, House Speaker Paul Ryan and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy are monitoring the ongoing discussions between members. Something will definitely be done, but it is unclear what form it will take.
Considering the super-majority in the Senate and the strong bi-partisan support for the bill in the House something similar to the legislation offered by Gillibrand is a possibility. However, if Speaker Ryan commits to "regular order" then the committees of jurisdiction must have their say. In that case, it's hard to see the Leadership allowing a permanent reauthorization bill onto the House floor.
In the Senate, Leadership sources tell NBC News that Majority Leader McConnell and New York Senator Chuck Schumer,D-N.Y. have had ongoing discussions about a way forward. Sources say that while the legislation is important, the sense of urgency is overblown because the program till next fall allowing time to work out a compromise.
Probably more posturing and behind the scene negotiations between the committee chairmen and the New York delegation fostered by leadership.