9/11 health bill not quite dead

9/11 HEALTH BILL NOT QUITE DEAD…. Two weeks ago, a unanimous Senate GOP caucus blocked a debate on the Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, which would pay health care costs for 9/11 rescue workers, sickened after exposure to the toxic smoke and debris. Given the limited time remaining in the lame-duck session, it appeared Republicans had killed the bill.

But as of late yesterday, the 9/11 health bill had a pulse.

Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand said Saturday that she and other sponsors of a stalled 9/11 health bill had won new Republican support for the measure and intended to try again to pass it before the end of the 111th Congress.

Following the Senate’s vote to repeal the ban on gays serving in the military, Ms. Gillibrand, Democrat of New York, said Democrats intended to resurrect the health initiative in the coming days after falling three votes short of breaking a filibuster against it earlier this month.

“We have the votes we need,” Ms. Gillibrand said. “We have indications from several Republicans that they very much want to vote for this bill.”

As of two weeks ago, the bill had 58 votes, made up entirely of every member of the Democratic caucus. There’s apparently been some movement, though, on the two GOP votes needed to end the Republican filibuster.

Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) had promised to vote for the bill, then reversed course, and now appears ready to reverse course again. He’d be vote #59. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), meanwhile, said yesterday that she, too, is prepared to vote for the Zadroga bill, so long as it has the “appropriate offsets.”

That’s really the key — what we’re left with is a debate about a funding mechanism. The way the bill is currently shaped, Democrats pay for the health costs for 9/11 heroes by closing tax loopholes for foreign businesses that do business in the United States. This has drawn the ire of Republicans and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has demanded the loopholes remain in place.

Collins, in effect, has told Gillibrand and other Dems that the bill can pass if they pay for it some other way, and yesterday, talks for an alternative funding mechanism appeared to be progressing. Details are a little sketchy, but the new plan would apparently include new visa fees and a 2% fee on some procurement contracts.

The next challenge would be finding floor time before the Senate wraps up for the year. As Gillibrand sees it, this can and should follow New START ratification this week. Stay tuned.