After a last-minute compromise, the Senate passed legislation Wednesday to provide up to $4.2 billion in new aid to survivors of the September 2001 terrorism attack on the World Trade Center and responders who became ill working in its ruins.
The measure was passed on a voice vote Wednesday afternoon with no one objecting. The vote came shortly after a deal was negotiated by Democratic Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York with Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma.
The House of Representatives later voted to approve the amended bill. President Barack Obama has said he intends to sign the bill.
The 9/11 legislation provides money for monitoring and treating illnesses related to Ground Zero and reopens a victims' compensation fund for another five years to cover wage and other economic losses of sickened workers and nearby residents. Schumer and Gillibrand had sought $6.2 billion and keeping the compensation fund open for 10 years.
"Every American recognizes the heroism of the 9/11 first responders, but it is not compassionate to help one group while robbing future generation of opportunity,'' said Coburn, who led a GOP blockade against the bill. "This agreement strikes a fair balance.''
In a press conference shortly after the vote, Sen. Gillibrand, thanked first responders, families and lawmakers in both the House and Senate who worked tirelessly to help get the bill passed. Our Christmas miracle has arrived,” she said. This is our “undeniable moral obligation to our first responders…all the heroes at Ground Zero,” she said.
New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg called it a "victory over cruel-hearted opponents.
The bill gained momentum with help from cable TV personalities. Among the biggest champions of the package were Fox News anchor Shepard Smith and comedian and activist Jon Stewart, who championed the bill and lashed its GOP foes on his Comedy Central TV program "The Daily Show.''
The compromise was reached after Democrats scheduled a showdown test vote for Wednesday afternoon and Republicans countered by threatening to run a 30-hour clock before allowing final Senate and House votes on the bill. That would have required keeping both the Senate and House in session for votes on Christmas Eve.
Backers worried that the bill would face a much tougher fight in the new, more fiscally conservative Congress where Republicans will have a stronger hand.
Changes to the bill include permanently closing the Victims Compensation Fund after 5 years. The original bill kept the VCF open through 2031. The bill also tries to invoke more accountability and a commitment to ensure eligible individuals cannot "double-dip" on benefits.
“As we look forward to the tenth anniversary of the September 11th attacks, I am encouraged that our elected representatives in Washington came together and stood by those who were there for America in its hour of greatest need," said Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Echoing the remarks of Gillibrand, Sen. Shumer also had special thanks for John Feal, a 9/11 advocate and former first responder, for his support and willingness to accept the compromised bill.
A joint statement by City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Committee on Lower Manhattan Redevelopment Chair Margaret Chin applauded the passage. “This legislation will also apply to the residents who lived through the attacks and continued on in lower Manhattan to help heal our community. This bill is the fulfillment of a promise to our men and women in uniform, and to the heroes of September 11th, who we will never forget."