Zadroga extension is "a wonderful Christmas present" Schumer says
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- Shortly after Sen. Charles Schumer confirmed late Tuesday night that Congress included an extension to the James L. Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act in the huge omnibus bill expected to pass on Friday, he got on the phone with retired FDNY firefighter Ray Pfeifer.
Pfeifer, a first responder from Long Island, was about to go into surgery when Schumer called him to wish him good luck and give him the good news "that this bill was now done."
"Now we don't have to worry every five years," Schumer (D-N.Y.) told him.
Pfeifer worked on the pile at Ground Zero and now has stage 4 cancer.
Several years ago, doctors found that a baseball-sized tumor in his leg had broken his hip, and two days after surgery to replace his hip and part of his femur, he had a kidney removed.
He has had more surgeries since and suffered a chemotherapy-related heart attack.
But in interviews, he has said he loved his time in the FDNY and is glad to see his son following in his footsteps.
"EFFECTIVELY PERMANENT" EXTENSION
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) has been a vocal proponent of the act's extension, getting co-sponsors to sign on since well before the health provision expired this year.
"This is incredible news for 9/11 heroes and their families," she told reporters Wednesday morning on a conference call along with Schumer.
Schumer applauded his Senate colleague for her "diligence, hard work and tenacity" in getting lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to include the Zadroga Act extension in the spending bill.
Schumer said he spoke to Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid "50 times about this in the last two weeks" and House Speaker Rep. Paul Ryan 10 times in that period to ensure it was included in the omnibus.
"We were worried they would cut it back, limit it, say it's not paid for," Schumer said.
The bill extends the WTC Health Fund until 2090, an "effectively permanent" extension, at a cost of $3.5 billion.
The Victim Compensation Fund is extended five years, costing $4.6 billion.
The fight was an uphill battle, with the health fund portion expiring in October, as lawmakers and first responders pushed others in Congress to extend the act.
Quoting a version of a Winston Churchill saying, Schumer said, "Americans always do the right thing but only after exhausting every other possibility."
As for the Victim Compensation Fund, Gillbrand was satisfied with the five-year agreement.
"We feel really excited that it's a five-year bill," she said. "That it's fully funded. This was an appropriate place where we did compromise."
Rep. Daniel Donovan (R-Staten Island/Brooklyn) signed onto the extension effort early on, adding his name as a co-sponsor his first day in office.
"This victory is about the heroes who sacrificed their health and their lives in one of our country's darkest hours," he said in a statement. "They didn't know it then, but by rushing toward the horror to save lives, many would risk their own years later. This is right, this is good, and I'm incredibly proud to be a part of it."
Mayor Bill de Blasio praised the compromise as giving first responders "long-overdue peace of mind," thanking Gillibrand, Schumer, Donovan and Reps. Carolyn Maloney, Jerrold Nadler and Peter King.
"But most of all this is a testament to the first responders and survivors whose stories — and whose tireless push on the Hill and across the nation — moved Congress to act and ensure that when this country says never forget, we mean it."
Asked whether he was confident the act won't be excluded from the spending bill at the 11th hour, Schumer said, "Yes, 100 percent."
"It's a wonderful Christmas present" for responders and their families, Schumer said, "but for America, because we rose to the occasion despite the partisanship."