THE ZADROGA WIN COMES AT A PRICE…. That the Zadroga 9/11 health bill was even in doubt continues to amaze me. First responders and rescue workers from 9/11 got sick from breathing in toxic air, and congressional Republicans didn’t want to help them with medical care? Are you kidding me?

What’s worse, GOP opponents couldn’t even come up with a compelling reason for their position. They came up with a variety of half-hearted arguments, all of which were either patently false, utterly ridiculous, or both. In some cases, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) resorted to just making up nonsense, hoping no one would know the difference.

Even yesterday, when the legislation passed both chambers, 60 House conservatives — 59 Republicans and a Blue Dog from Mississippi — still voted against it. This from a gang that didn’t hesitate to fight tooth and nail for hundreds of billions of dollars in tax cuts.

Nevertheless, success felt good. I just wish it hadn’t come at such a high price.

After years of fierce lobbying and debate, Congress approved a bill on Wednesday to cover the cost of medical care for rescue workers and others who became sick from toxic fumes, dust and smoke after the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center.
The $4.3 billion bill cleared its biggest hurdle early in the afternoon when the Senate unexpectedly approved it just 12 days after Republican senators had blocked a more expensive House version from coming to the floor of the Senate for a vote. […]

After the Senate vote, a celebration broke out in a room in the Capitol that was packed with emergency workers and 9/11 families, as well as the two senators from New York, Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten E. Gillibrand, and the two senators from New Jersey, Frank R. Lautenberg and Robert Menendez. The senators, all Democrats, were greeted with a huge ovation and repeated chants of “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!”

To be sure, I’m thrilled with passage, and I applaud those who helped make it happen. “This compromise isn’t everything we wanted,” Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), a chief sponsor of the legislation, said. “But in the end we got a strong program that will save lives.”

That’s entirely right, and to a very extent, it’s what matters most.

But let’s not forget what Senate Republicans demanded to get the bill through the chamber: a considerably weaker bill. The price tag is down to just $4.2 billion, and the life of the program is now five years instead of 10.

As Jonathan Zasloff noted, “Does that matter? I would think so: a chronic illness doesn’t stop after five years because the federal funding runs out…. Hopefully, this does not harm any of the first responders who risked themselves for his freedom. But just remember this the next time Republicans tell you how much they care about national security.”

Also remember this because, in five years, it’s fairly likely policymakers will have to return to the subject.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.