New York City firefighters, police and others search the debris field March 13, 2002, at the site of the World Trade Center terrorist attacks in New York City, a day after the remains of 11 firefighters and two civilians were recovered in an area that was the south tower. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
What could have been a showdown between Capitol Police and 9/11 first responders has instead given those who worked countless hours at Ground Zero new confidence a long-delayed bill covering their health care costs will become law.
The potentially tense situation began when a staff member for Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) "informed Capitol Police yesterday that we expected a large group of people to visit the office today," said Kevin Kelley, a spokesman for the Senator.
Collins' office had become aware a group of first responders had driven down to Washington from New York to ask why the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, named for an NYPD officer who died, was stalled in the Senate.
"The intent was never to discourage the visit, nor were Capitol police ever asked to intervene," said Kelley. "In fact, the group had a very insightful discussion with Senator Collins' Staff Director on the Senate Homeland Security Committee about the 9/11 health bill."
The group's leader, John Feal, was injured working on the pile at Ground Zero and now runs the Feal Good Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to health problems emergency workers faced after working in the the dust of debris after 9/11. He told NBCNewYork on Thursday "Not only do we have Collins now, I think you're going to see a lot of Republicans voting for this now."
His optimism followed a meeting with Sen. Collins to solicit support from her and other Republican lawmakers.
Democratic Senators now plan to re-introduce the bill next week, after an earlier attempt was blocked by Senate Republicans demanding passage of an extension of Bush-era tax breaks.
Earlier this month, the bill's supporters were three votes short of the 60 needed to proceed to debate and a final vote. Passage would provide $7.4 billion in health care and compensation to 9/11 responders and survivors. It would also have re-opened a compensation fund for 9/11 victims.
The bill failed on a test vote, 57-42. Fifty-seven Democrats voted for the bill and 41 Republicans opposed it.
Feal also said that the office of Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) told him to expect the bill to be re-introduced next week.
In last week's vote, Sen. Harry Reid, the Democratic leader, switched his support to "no" at the last moment, a parliamentary move that allows him to bring the measure up again for a vote.
The bill has passed the House, but it would have to clear that chamber again if it doesn't pass the Senate by December 31. A new Congress is sworn in on January 1.
The Republicans' move to halt the bill has earned strong criticism from supporters and Democratic lawmakers. Kirsten Gillibrand, the junior Democratic Senator from New York, said "The idea that tax cuts for millionaires would derail this legislation is simply outrageous and offensive," Gillibrand said in a statement.
Previously, all 42 Republicans in the Senate signed a letter saying they wouldn't support any other legislation until the tax issue was resolved.
Critics of the bill question its cost and whether the government could ensure the money would go only to people sickened by trade center dust.