WASHINGTON – Begging and pleading from New York lawmakers wasn’t enough to save the 9/11 health bill from a Republican filibuster this morning.
The $7.4 billion bill died in a 57-42 vote, falling three votes short of the 60 needed to break the filibuster and advance the legislation toward easy passage.
It was a birthday bust for Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who turns 44 today. She fiercely championed the bill to give federal medical benefits to first-responders sick from Ground Zero dust.
The bill faces an uncertain future.
Senate Democrat leaders could bring it to the floor again or attach it to other must-pass legislation in the final days of the lame-duck session next week. But Democrat insiders admit that’s a long shot.
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Next year, the bill would face an uphill battle to pass the Republican-controlled House.
Gillibrand has said this was "the last, best chance" to pass it.
All 41 Senate Republicans present – including a at least a couple who like the bill – carried out their threat to block every bill until Senate Democrats finalize the deal to extend all the Bush-era tax cuts. A single Republican, Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback, was not present.
"The idea that tax cuts for millionaires would derail this legislation is simply outrageous and offensive," Gillibrand said after the vote. "The men and women who rushed to the burning towers and worked for hundreds of hours on the pile did not delay and the Senate should not have delayed either, certainly not to give tax breaks for millionaires. We should not have to wait for tax deals to do what’s right."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Ried (D-Nev.) cast the sole Democrat vote against the measure, a procedural move that gives him the option to bring the bill up again later. Senate Democrat leaders expected the bill to fail but went ahead anyway with the vote.
Before the vote, Sen. Chuck Schumer warned Republicans that their excuses for killing the bill would "ring very, very hollow" for 9/11 heros.
"This should not be a partisan issue," he said on the Senate floor. "I beg, I plead, I implore two great colleagues from the other side of the aisle – join us."
He said it was "our last call . . . to step up to the plate."
The bill has languished in Congress for nine years before winning House passage in September.
The Zadroga bill was named after the NYPD officer who responded on 9/11 and later died of respiratory disease that was the first case attributed to exposure at Ground Zero. But the cause of death was disputed by the city Medical Examiner’s Office, which in 2007 determined Zadroga died from injecting ground-up prescription drugs.
Note: the 57 votes were to APPROVE the bill.