Lessons of Finally-Passed 9/11 Responders Health Bill

After years, Congress passes a pared-down health care fund for first-responders

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Congress finally passed a bill on Wednesday to provide $4.3 billion in health care for 9/11 first responders, many of whom have suffered severe or even terminal health conditions as a result of their work on September 11, 2001. The measure languished for years, most recently at the objections of Senate Republicans worried that the original cost, $7.4 billion, was too high. In Congress, the bill's biggest champions were the Senators from New York, Democrats Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand. In the media, no backer was more persistent or energetic than The Daily Show's Jon Stewart, who dedicated searing segments to the GOP opposition and hosted a roundtable of frustrated September 11 response workers. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg even singled out Stewart for his work on the bill on Twitter. Now that the measure has passed, what does it mean and what have we learned?

The votes came after prolonged aggressive lobbying by top New York officials and lawmakers, police and firefighter groups and 9/11 families, who argued that the nation had a moral obligation to provide medical assistance to rescue workers who spent days, weeks and even months at ground zero. ... Senate Republicans budged, following a barrage of criticism over the last few days--not just from Democrats, but also from allies, including former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani of New York and conservative news outlets like Fox News.
  • Sen. Tom Coburn Was Lead Opponent  Salon's Alex Pareene looks at why the GOP Senator "finally dropp[ed] his threat to single-handedly obstruct the 9/11 first responders healthcare bill in the Senate. He's dropping his threat because he won" by paring down the funding, says Pareene. "Coburn's original objection was that the bill was too pricey--though it was paid for by closing tax loopholes, which means that his real objection was that rich people were going to have to pay for non-rich people to have their illnesses treated."
  • Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand Finds Her Issue  The New York Times' David Halbfinger says that her fight on this bill "signaled the serious emergence of Ms. Gillibrand, the 43-year-old successor to Hillary Rodham Clinton. Once derided as an accidental senator, lampooned for her verbosity and threatened with many challengers who openly doubted her abilities, a succinct, passionate and effective Senator Gillibrand has made her presence felt in the final days of this Congress"
  • Is This Our New Baseline for 'Good News' from Congress?  Wonkette's Jack Stuef makes the not-so-funny point that our expectations of Congress have sunk so low that passing a pared down bill to provide health care to 9/11 workers after years of obstruction is considered something to celebrate.
These no-good 9/11-cancer queens think they can just sit around getting cancer from trying to save their fellow citizens’ lives in one of our country’s most trying hours. But if the true heroes, Republican obstructionists like Tom Coburn, have their say, it’s going to be along time before any of these schemers try to rob the taxpayers with another one of these “rescue people from a collapsing building of fire” frauds again.
  • This Is All Jon Stewart's Fault  The Weekly Standard's John McCormack laments The Daily Show host's "effort to demonize those who would dare oppose the bill."
While Stewart's show that day may have been a triumph of advocacy, it was a failure of journalism. He gave time to four 9/11 responders who all suffered from various diseases and were advocates for the bill, but he didn't really try to understand why Republicans objected to the bill or why the Democratic leadership waited until now to bring it up for a vote. "This is insane," was all Stewart had to say about Republican opposition.

... Does Stewart think Coburn's objections were really "insane"? And more importantly, why didn't he have Coburn on the show to explain why he objected to the bill?
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.