9/11 wears on GOP, now New York's prob­lem

That's why he blinked and made a silk purse out of a sow's ear, pair­ing their tax cuts with un­em­ploy­ment ben­e­fits and some eco­nomic stim­u­lus.

The Pak Banker - - Editorial - Mar­garet Carl­son

Some­times I say to my­self, "Repub­li­cans would never go that far." Then they do, to no ill ef­fect. They wouldn't dare vow to bring Congress to a halt un­til the rich got their tax breaks. But they said it out loud and un­der the lights, and Pres­i­dent Barack Obama knew they meant busi­ness. That's why he blinked and made a silk purse out of a sow's ear, pair­ing their tax cuts with un­em­ploy­ment ben­e­fits and some eco­nomic stim­u­lus.

In the in­terim, noth­ing did get done, in­clud­ing med­i­cal ben­e­fits for first re­spon­ders who have suf­fered for their brav­ery at the World Trade Cen­ter ru­ins on and af­ter Sept. 11.

Who thought Repub­li­cans, the party of 9/11, would al­low them­selves to be­come the party dragged kick­ing and scream­ing to help sick men and women who ran to­ward the fallen tow­ers when ev­ery in­stinct of self-preser­va­tion said to run the other way?

The bill that got held up is the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Com­pen­sa­tion Act, named for a po­lice­man, a non-smoker who was healthy as of 2001, only to die in 2006 at age 34 of a res­pi­ra­tory ill­ness.

The leg­is­la­tion, fi­nally adopted by the Se­nate yes­ter­day in what New York's two sen­a­tors called a " Christ­mas mir­a­cle," pro­vides $4.3 bil­lion --ne­go­ti­ated down from $6.2 bil­lion --to help and com­pen­sate peo­ple who be­came sick years af­ter be­ing ex­posed to tox­ins at Ground Zero, in­clud­ing those who stuck around for months to dig out the dead and now strug­gle with dis­abil­ity claims and un­com­pen­sated health-care costs.

The prin­ci­ple is a sim­ple one: If you risked your life and lost your health in Amer­ica's hour of need, Amer­ica will stand by you.

You would think Repub­li­cans would have been trip­ping over them­selves to up­hold that prin­ci­ple, not nick­ling-and-dim­ing these col­lat­eral vic­tims, some of whom are deal­ing with grotesque res­pi­ra­tory dis­eases. Men who once were strap­ping and healthy are dy­ing in their 40s.

In the im­me­di­ate af­ter­math of the tow­ers fall­ing, peo­ple won­dered if the nau­sea and headaches some work­ers were get­ting was a harbinger of worse ef­fects to come. Christie Whitman, then ad­min­is­tra­tor of the U.S. En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency, as­sured us that New York's air was "safe to breathe." Six years later she told Congress that she had been ad­dress­ing those com­ments to res­i­dents of Lower Man­hat­tan in gen­eral, not work­ers at Ground Zero.

At the risk of un­der­state­ment, 9/11 was long sa­cred to Repub­li­cans --or so they said. It was used as jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for vast new law-en­force­ment pow­ers, for cut­ting taxes in 2003 to stim­u­late the econ­omy, for in­vad­ing Iraq.

For rea­sons that elude me, Se­nate Repub­li­cans de­cided to draw the line at sick 9/11 re­spon­ders. And for too long those of us in the press lost track of the story in a wel­ter of pro­ce­dural moves Repub­li­cans threw up like Jersey bar­ri­ers.

It took "The Daily Show With Jon Ste­wart" to do what the rest of us failed to do.

In the last episode of the year, Ste­wart hosted four first re­spon­ders, all ill. John Devlin, an op­er­at­ing en­gi­neer with stage four throat can­cer, said in a raspy voice, " We're pa­tri­ots to this coun­try." Fire­fighter Kenny Speck, who has can­cer, told of a col­league who had re­cently died of face can­cer, af­ter "his nose fell off his face." Yet the of­ten-weepy Repub­li­cans in Congress didn't cry for these vic­tims. Which raises this un­com­fort­able ques­tion: Was it be­cause most of the vic­tims are from New York?

Among the ex­cuses Repub­li­cans came up with last sum­mer was the prospect that there might be an il­le­gal im­mi­grant among those who could be helped by the leg­is­la­tion. Imag­ine the prece­dent that would set! Some­one who got into this coun­try il­le­gally get­ting treat­ment for lung can­cer con­tracted while try­ing to help in­jured Amer­i­cans. Call it chemo­ther­apy as moral haz­ard: the fear that more im­mi­grants will sneak into our coun­try for the chance to die for it.

Repub­li­cans also raised the usual con­cerns about waste, fraud and abuse. They were hor­ri­fied that the leg­is­la­tion --which, un­like tax cuts, has to be paid for to be con­sid­ered --car­ried the whiff of a tax in­crease, be­cause it closed a loop­hole ben­e­fit­ing for­eign cor­po­ra­tions. That's as toxic to the GOP as as­bestos.

A more re­cent ex­cuse was the cal­en­dar. Hav­ing de­layed the bill un­til their soar­ing dream of tax cuts for Ru­pert Murdoch could be­come a re­al­ity, they claimed in­suf­fi­cient time to con­sider it.

Jon Kyl of Ari­zona, the Se­nate's No. 2 Repub­li­can, said he was of­fended that Democrats would move a bill di­rectly onto the floor (it's been around for years) and with­out a hear­ing (the ap­pro­pri­ate com­mit­tee held one).

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