Friday, July 30, 2010

9/11 Health and Compensation Act Voted Down in House

On September 11, 2001 the entire world fundamentally changed. For the majority of us the changes were macro in nature - from fear and confusion to small things like inconveniences at the airport and increased police presence in transit hubs. For a small, but significant, number of Americans the repercussions from the 9/11 attacks were, and continue to be, extremely personal. Over 2,800 people died that day. The two wars that have resulted from the cowardly attacks have seen over 5,600 military fatalities - 4,413 from Operation Iraqi Freedom and 1,212 from Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan). These numbers do not reflect the other Americans who have been personally touched by 9/11 - friends and family members of those killed in lower Manhattan that day and those killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, those wounded on September 11 and in Iraq and Afghanistan, and those otherwise affected by that day and its repercussions.

Unfortunately there is nothing the government can do for those who have already given their lives for this country. There is, however, very much that the government can do for those who continue to be plagued by illnesses caused by the toxic debris and dust that encased lower Manhattan following the falling of the Twin Towers. This week the House of Representatives had the chance to make the first move to do the right thing - to provide aid to rescue workers and Manhattan residents suffering from the after-effects of 9/11. Unfortunately, like everything in Washington, this is political. The James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010 (H.R. 847) meant to offer up to $7.4 billion in aid to these folks was voted down along party lines.

In a world where the U.S. government threw $2.25 trillion at the financial industry without so much as blinking, it is appalling and disheartening to see a measure that would provide 0.33% of that amount to those who, through no fault of their own (which cannot be said of finance bailouts), have suffered due to attacks that struck the core of this country. It is, in a word, disgusting.

As I mentioned earlier, the vote was along party lines. 159 Representatives voted against the measure; 155 of those nays were Republicans. Now blame can also be placed on Democrats for using rules that required a 2/3 majority vote that would avoid any amendments to the bill (the final vote was 255-159.) But to be honest, I don't care if you needed a 9/10 majority vote, this bill should overwhelmingly pass. This speaks to the Republican strategy of, as the party's chairman Michael Steele has said, being "the cow on the tracks" and simply being obstructionist. In another example of this, Republicans in the Senate unanimously voted against a bill that would aid small business through, of all things, tax breaks. With midterm elections coming up, Republicans do not want any legislative victories that could be attributed to majority Democrats, no matter how beneficial to their constituents.

If there is one thing that we as Americans ought to be able to rally behind without political considerations it is that a) 9/11 was an national tragedy and b) those personally affected by this tragedy deserve any and all help the government can offer them. To politicize 9/11 yet again (unfortunately, this is not unprecedented) simply shows the utter lack of leadership abilities by those in Washington in an era of American history that desperately needs unequivocal leaders to guide us through these uncharted waters.

Photo - Reps. (l-r) Pallone, Jr., Maloney (co-sponsor), Nadler (co-sponsor) showing support for H.R. 847 (The Epoch Times)

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