9/11 responder: Coburn ‘should be ashamed’ for blocking health bill

By David Edwards

The Senate passed a bill by unanimous consent Wednesday that will provide health care benefits to first responders and survivors of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks.

Original report follows…

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) earned himself a visit from some 9/11 first responders after he threatened to block a bill that would provide them health benefits.

A group of former Ground Zero workers visited the senator’s office Tuesday to give him a piece of their mind but Coburn refused the meeting.

“Mr. Coburn should be ashamed of himself,” John Feal, the leader of the group, told Think Progress. “Because I think before he was a senator he was a doctor and he took an oath to help people that are sick. He’s going against his oath as a doctor. He can vote any way he wants as a senator, but as a doctor, he just embarrassed the medical profession.”

“What about going office to office? Have their staff and the senators been very receptive to the group?” Think Progress asked.

“Once in a while we’ll run into some resistance and some arrogance and some rude people. Listen, we busted our asses since 9/11. We’ve fought and advocated for ourselves so others wouldn’t. So to be insulted by the staff of the United States Senate and Congress — most of them were 12 years old when 9/11 happened — doesn’t bother me,” Feal said.

All but one of the 42 Republican senators stood together last week to wage a successful filibuster against the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010. The bill would provide $7 billion in benefits to workers that responded to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Many of those workers are now experiencing health problems such as cancer, heart disease and respiratory disease.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), called Capitol Police when she heard the activists were planning to arrive on the Hill and stay in senators’ offices until they had the 60 votes needed to overcome the filibuster.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has promised to bring up the Zadroga bill once more in the lame duck session, after the Senate votes on the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) with Russia Wednesday.

On Tuesday, an aide for Coburn told The Wall Street Journal that the senator would not allow the bill to go through before Christmas.

A source told the Associate Press Wednesday that Democrats and Republicans had worked out a deal to pass the bill.

As a part of the deal, health benefits would be scaled back to $4 billion over 5 years, instead of $7 billion over 10 years.

Coburn appeared Wednesday to back off his threat to block the bill.

“There’s a deal,” Coburn said. “The deal’s closed. And all we’re doing is running the traps and I’ve run a lot of the traps on my side and it looks like it’ll go by [unanimous consent] this afternoon.”

This video is from Think Progress, uploaded to YouTube Dec. 21, 2010.