WASHINGTON -- A new bill to aid ailing 9/11 responders was on the cusp of completion Tuesday, with legislators and staff scrambling to tie up the last details, lawmakers and sources said.
When all is said and done, the new James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act should weigh in at about $8 billion.
About $3.5 billion of that will be guarantee that responders and survivors will always have access to treatment, including the more than 33,000 people who already have 9/11-linked illnesses. Another $4.5 billion will go to extend the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund for five years, and to fill an approximately 50 percent funding shortfall in the original program passed in 2010.
But a few technical details remained to be ironed out as legislators sought Tuesday morning to attach the 9/11 measure to the giant omnibus spending bill that needs to pass this week to keep the government open. The omnibus bill is expected to be unveiled Tuesday evening.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said on the Senate floor Tuesday that the main sticking point for the omnibus bill was a negotiation over GOP requests to lift the U.S. ban on exporting oil and Democrats' demands to include renewable energy provisions.
A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) noted that the senator has said repeatedly the 9/11 measure will get done, and that he remains committed. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has made similar assurances.
The measure's lead sponsor in the House, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), sounded optimistic on Tuesday, but pointed out that it's been a long struggle to get this far. She said she won't be ready to celebrate until she actually sees the measure in black and white.
"Fourteen years ago I became concerned about the health effects of exposure to toxins at ground zero," Maloney said. "Eleven years ago I introduced the first 9/11 health bill. Five years ago we got it passed. This week, Congress will have an opportunity to make it permanent."
"The deal is close. Now we need to see it in writing, and Congress needs to vote," she went on. "This would be a major bipartisan victory for the survivors and responders who were counting on us to get this done."
"The finish line is in sight," said Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).
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