WASHINGTON -- Hopes rose Wednesday that Congress was finally going to pass a new bill to aid ailing and dying 9/11 responders, with House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) pledging to include it in one of the final pieces of legislation remaining to pass this year.
"Speaker Ryan has committed to reauthorize the program and he will keep his word," Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong said in a statement. "We expect it will be included in one of the year-end legislative items.”
One New York lawmaker, Rep. Dan Donovan (R), went a step further and told the New York Daily News: "Speaker Ryan told me this morning that the Zadroga Act, which funds health screenings and treatments for 9/11 first responders, is in the large spending bill that will pass next week."
Others took the announcements as a good sign, but were not ready to pop the champagne corks.
"It’s a positive development," said Ben Chevat, the executive director of Citizens for the Extension of the James Zadroga Act. "But we know from experience that until we see it in public, it’s not done."
Despite Ryan's pledge, two issues remained to be worked out. One was how to pay for the health care portion of the bill. And the other, despite Donovan's assertion, was which larger measure to use to attach the 9/11 bill. While most involved in talks see the omnibus spending bill that will fund the government as the most logical vehicle, it could still wind up in a tax package.
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Democratic and Republican leaders were "making good progress" on finding "pay-fors," but if the details couldn't be worked out, supporters would turn to the tax package, which includes hundreds of billions in tax breaks that will add to the deficit.
"If we can't find the pay-fors, we'll try to put it in the tax-extenders bill, making the argument there's $100 billion, $400 billion, $700 billion of unpaid-for tax [breaks]," Schumer said, speaking at a news conference to unveil artwork in the Russell Senate Office building depicting police officers who responded to 9/11, along with New York City Police Commissioner Bill Bratton.
"We don't have to find a pay-for for these people, above all," Schumer said.
Bratton did not know why it was so difficult to pass a 9/11 bill.
"I wish I knew," he said.
"Isn't it ironic that we still haven't paid the debt to the first responders from the events of 9/11?" Bratton added. "A debt that was continued by the over 200 officers in San Bernardino not more than two weeks ago. That is the ultimate irony."
Ryan's pledge at least gave hope that debt is about to be paid.