The U.S. Senate has blocked a bill that would provide money for medical aid to ailing World Trade Center workers, dealing a blow to those sickened in service to the country.
Senate Republicans today voted against moving the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act to formal debate until the Bush tax breaks are extended for millionaires and billionaires.
Supporters were three votes short of the 60 needed to proceed to debate and a final vote on the bill that would have provided as much as $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.
Sen. Harry Reid, the Democratic leader, switched his vote to "no" at the last moment, a parliamentary move that allows him to bring the measure up again for a vote.
Backers of the legislation see this lame-duck session of Congress as possibly its last chance. The bill has passed the House.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who made an emotional 11th-hour push to help those she considers heroes, condemned the move to halt it in the Senate.
"The idea that tax cuts for millionaires would derail this legislation is simply outrageous and offensive," Gillibrand said in a statement.
"The men and women who rushed to the burning towers and worked for hundreds of hours on the pile did not delay and the Senate should not have delayed either, certainly not to give tax breaks for millionaires. We should not have to wait for tax deals to do what's right."
Previously, all 42 Republicans in the Senate signed a letter saying they wouldn't support any other legislation until the tax issue was resolved.
New York and New Jersey lawmakers have fought for years for the measure. Critics question its cost and whether the government could ensure the money would go only to people sickened by trade center dust.
Supporters of the bill rallied in Washington ahead of the key vote in the U.S. Senate. They recalled how Congress took steps to help civilian victims of the Pearl Harbor attack and urged similar help for 9/11 victims.