Senators approve James Zadroga 9/11 health bill after months of partisan bickering

By Michael Mcauliff
Originally Published:Wednesday, December 22nd 2010
Updated: Wednesday, December 22nd 2010

WASHINGTON – The ill and dying Americans who answered the call after 9/11 received a “Christmas Miracle” on Wednesday – help is finally on the way.

More than nine years after the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history, the Senate voted unanimously to pass the $4.3 billion James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act.

The House quickly gave the measure its final stamp of approval. President Obama will sign the bill law soon.

The bill provides medical care and financial relief to tens of thousands of responders.

Many Capitol Hill insiders never believed the measure would pass, and some Republicans came within hours of killing it.

But a dramatic night of negotiations by New York lawmakers and the bill’s foes Tuesday night and into early Wednesday won an eleventh-hour compromise.

“It’s a good Christmas present for everybody,” said Joseph Zadroga, the father of NYPD Detective James Zadroga who died from his ruined lungs and became the face of the legislation.

Jennifer McNamara, whose firefighter husband, John, died of cancer blamed on 9/11, wept when she heard the news. She recalled how much her husband wanted his government to act for people who sacrificed. “Working for this day was such a part of my husband’s existence, and mine,” an emotional McNamara said.

“This is something that will help take care of people, and that’s something John would be proud of,” she said. “My Christmas is good. I’m done. This is the best present I’m going to get because my husband is never coming back.”

Her Christmas gift almost never arrived as Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Chuck Schumer, both New York Democrats, and Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Manhattan) negotiated late into Tuesday night and yesterday morning with Wyoming Republican Sen. Mike Enzi. Both sides broke off talks in the wee hours of the morning, with the New Yorkers despondent that Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) had passed along too many demands – and believing the two sides were too far apart.

They were convinced an agreement was all but dead.

When the New Yorkers returned to negotiating table later yesterday morning in a last-ditch effort, Coburn offered a welcome glimmer of hope. “We’re real close,” Coburn told them.

The sides labored through the morning horse-trading. Schumer finally produced for Coburn a letter from former 9/11 compensation czar Kenneth Feinberg proving people who accepted the 9/11 legal settlement couldn’t “double-dip” – and the deal was struck.

“I think that showed him how much we cared about this,” Schumer said.