Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) On the 9/11 Health and Compensation Act Goes Ballistic At GOP For Killing 9 11 Responders Health Care Bill
House Republicans late Thursday were able to corral enough votes to defeat a bill that would have provided up to $7.4 billion in aid to those sickened by toxins resulting from the 9/11 attacks.
In the process, they set off a host of fiery speeches and denunciations from their Democratic colleagues and produced a veritable YouTube moment from Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y), whose district includes many of the affected.
At the heart of the debate was a procedural maneuver made by Democrats to suspend the rules before consideration of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act.
The move allowed leadership to block potential GOP amendments to the measure (there was worry that Republicans would attach something overtly partisan in hopes that it could pass on the otherwise widely-popular measure). It also meant that the party needed a two-thirds majority vote.
Why I Was Angry
By Anthony Weiner, nytimes.com
LAST week I got angry on the floor of the House. In this age of cable and YouTube, millions of people evidently saw the one-minute-plus clip. But there has been relatively little focus on why the substantive debate that sparked it matters.
More broadly, while I appreciate the concern over the future of civility in politics, I believe a little raw anger right now is justified. Democrats make a mistake by pretending there is a bipartisan spirit in Congress these days, and would be better served by calling out Republican shams.
The specifics of the debate last week should be an example of an issue beyond partisan dispute. The bill in question was created to help the thousands of citizens who went to ground zero after the Sept. 11 attacks. These are Americans who wanted to help, and who scientific studies now show are falling ill and dying in troubling numbers.
After nine years, the House had a chance to make this right by voting on a bill that would provide treatment, screening and compensation to Americans who sacrificed their safety that day, as well as Lower Manhattan residents and others who have suffered injury from exposure to the dust and debris.
Though it should have been a legislative slam dunk, the bill was defeated on a simple up-or-down vote, with only 12 Republicans voting in favor. Just 21 additional Republican votes would have been sufficient for passage.
It was frustrating to hear Republicans say these people didn’t deserve more help because, as one put it, “people get killed all the time.” Others called it another big entitlement program. Some said it was a giveaway to New York, or complained that the bill would have been paid for by closing a tax loophole. We responded to each of these arguments over the summer in the hours of hearings and markups of the bill. And the answers are pretty simple.
The truth is that this is a limited program, with a cap, because it is restricted to 9/11 responders and others directly affected by the toxic substances. As we all remember, the victims of ground zero dust came from all over the nation — they weren’t just New Yorkers. And, frankly, I don’t see what’s wrong with trying to close a loophole that lets foreign multinational corporations avoid paying taxes on income they have earned in the United States.
There were also Republican objections that we put the bill on the “suspension calendar,” which is generally used for noncontroversial legislation, as this measure should have been. This move meant that the bill required a two-thirds favorable vote for approval rather than a simple majority, but it also kept the bill from getting bogged down in debate and stuck with poison-pill amendments.
Still, what upset me most last week were comments voiced by Republicans who claimed to be supporters of the bill, yet who used their time on the House floor not to persuade skeptical Republican colleagues to vote yes but to excoriate Democrats for using the suspension calendar.
Although I had already spoken earlier in the debate, on Friday I felt it was important that someone object to this effort to make the health of those at ground zero just another partisan issue. And I got angry. I didn’t break decorum, but I did say what I was thinking and feeling.
I love the House of Representatives and its rules, and I was careful to respect regular order. But I believe sometimes we mistakenly assume you can’t follow those rules and also say what you think, forcefully. Especially when this galling behavior has been on display for years now.
This wasn’t the first time obstructionism has come to us cloaked in procedure. Recall that after months of negotiations, Republicans voted unanimously against the health care reform bill. And then they complained about process. Similarly in January, after Senate Republicans introduced a bill calling for a deficit commission, they refused to support the legislation when the president took them up on the idea. And, of course, they used technical objections as an excuse.
Instead of engaging in a real debate about how to address the challenges we face, Republicans have turned to obstruction, no matter the issue, and then cry foul after the fact. They claim to want an open legislative process with more consultation and debate, but the truth is they simply don’t want to pass anything.
Meanwhile, conservative television and talk radio programs are full of false anger, intended to scare Americans. I think some genuine frustration at this misleading tactic is overdue.
That’s why I got mad last week. That’s also why I’m going to fight for this bill when we come back in session in September. I’m still angry. Playing politics on important issues is never right. But on health care for 9/11 responders, it’s an outrage.
Anthony Weiner is a member of the House of Representatives from Queens and Brooklyn.