WASHINGTON -- Advocates for a new 9/11 health bill are heading back to Capitol Hill Wednesday amid concerns that House Republicans will sabotage the measure with increased cuts and a poison-pill provision to pay for it.
All the congressional leaders involved insist they support passing a bill that permanently provides health care for more than 33,000 responders who are sick from their World Trade Center service, but negotiations over how to fund the bill without tacking the cost onto the deficit have grown increasingly contentious in recent days.
House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) has settled on a so-called "pay-for" for about half the program that Democrats have long deemed toxic -- subjecting Medicare recipients to income tests so that a wealthier person pays more. Upton's version amounts to about $70 a month. Most Democrats and groups like AARP have opposed such means-testing on the grounds that it would turn Medicare into a welfare program, although President Barack Barack Obama has flirted with the idea.
Upton pushed ahead with the plan Tuesday, reiterating his intentions in a press release that cast his funding idea as entitlement reform and a tax on the rich.
"We have a permanent solution that puts 9/11 heroes ahead of millionaires -- having millionaires pay two bucks and change more a day for heroes' health care should be something everyone can enthusiastically get behind," said a statement provided by a committee spokesperson.
The spokesperson also described concerns of 9/11 responders that the committee was looking to trim funding as "hogwash," although two sources forwarded to HuffPost a discussion document that appears to contemplate cutting about $250 million from the expected $4 billion-plus cost of the health and treatment program.
The committee did not answer questions about the cuts.
Democrats have offered several other ways to fund the measure that were initially crafted by Republicans to pay for other legislation, but that other legislation is unlikely to pass. Those measures included one closing a $9.5 billion tax loophole for foreign insurance companies. Another idea they would back is selling 64 million barrels of oil from the nation's strategic petroleum reserve to generate $5.4 billion.
“They are again insisting on partisan, poison-pill provisions to pay for the bill instead of working out a bipartisan idea that all can agree with," said Benjamin Chevat, the executive director of Citizens for Extension of the James Zadroga Act.
"Speaker [Paul] Ryan and Senate [Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell keep making choices that leave 9/11 responders out of the mix," Chevat said.
Several responders and Democratic sources blamed Ryan for Upton's moves, arguing that Ryan's office was demanding cuts and forcing Upton to find the pay-for in his committee's jurisdiction, which includes Medicare. A spokesman for Ryan flatly denied those suspicions, however, leaving it in Upton's lap.
Chevat added that responders are still angry at news that McConnell did not give his approval to put the 9/11 legislation in last week's highway bill, where the pay-fors would have been more easily achieved.
"The House Energy and Commerce committee is choosing to continue to make this a political fight rather than getting it done," Chevat said. "Now 9/11 responders will have to come back to Washington again when this should have been settled a long time ago."
One of those responders, John Feal, an injured Ground Zero construction worker who leads the FealGood Foundation advocacy group, pledged he would be on the Hill Wednesday.
"Speaker Ryan and Fred Upton have joined the asshole of the month club," he said. "I'm coming down there tomorrow. I'm leaving tonight, and I'm not in a Merry Christmas mood.
When Jon Stewart and responders visited Capitol Hill last week, they won a pledge from McConnell to include the 9/11 legislation in the upcoming omnibus bill to keep the government funded. McConnell did not, however, make any promises on paying for the 9/11 measure.
Michael McAuliff covers Congress and politics for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.