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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Deal for 9/11 Health Bill Reached in Senate - NYTimes.com

Deal for 9/11 Health Bill Reached in Senate - NYTimes.com

1:49 p.m. | Updated A deal has been reached in the Senate to approve a bill that covers the cost of medical care for rescue workers and others who became sick from breathing in toxic fumes, dust and smoke after the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center.

The compromise on Wednesday was reached after Senators Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, both New York Democrats, agreed to changes demanded by conservative Republicans, who raised concerns about the measure’s cost.

Under the new agreement, the bill provides $4.3 billion over five years for health coverage to the 9/11 workers, instead of the original $7.4 billion over eight years.

In a joint statement issued on Wednesday, Senators Schumer and Gillibrand called the deal a “Christmas miracle.”

“Over the last 24 hours, our Republican colleagues have negotiated in good faith to forge a workable final package that will protect the health of the men and women who selflessly answered our nation’s call in her hour of greatest need,” the statement said. “This has been a long process, but we are now on the cusp of the victory these heroes deserve.”

With lawmakers eager to get home for the holidays, the Senate is expected within the hour to take up the bill by unanimous consent, an agreement made between the parties to bypass any potentially time-consuming debate.

One of the main critics of the bill, Senator Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma, expressed satisfaction with the legislation’s final price tag.

“Every American recognizes the heroism of the 9/11 first responders,” he said. “But it is not compassionate to help one group while robbing future generations of opportunity.”

The deal was a major turn of events for a bill that had been stalled in the upper chamber. Only 12 days ago, Senate Republicans blocked the legislation from advancing to a floor vote.

But Republicans backed down after facing a barrage of criticism — not just from Democrats, but also from traditional Republican allies, including former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani of New York, and conservative news outlets like Fox News.

Should the Senate pass the measure, it will go to the House, where it is expected to be swiftly approved and then sent to President Obama for his signature.

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