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Zadroga 9/11 health bill faces peril

Five years ago, Republicans fought tooth and nail against health care funding for 9/11 first responders. Now, the bill faces real peril again.
Joel Meyerowitz was granted unparalleled access to Ground Zero right after the attack.  (Ap Photo/Joel Meyerowitz)
Joel Meyerowitz was granted unparalleled access to Ground Zero right after the attack.
One of the more unexpected political fights of 2010 was over a bill called the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act. The point of the measure, as a New York Daily News editorial explained, was to provide "medical coverage and financial assistance to members of the civilian army who rallied to serve their country and city in the dark days after" 9/11. Many of these first responders and civilians breathed the toxic air at Ground Zero, "and suffered severe illnesses, including cancers, because of their service."
It was congressional Republicans who tried to derail the bill, and who nearly succeeded in killing the entire endeavor. Eventually, however, the then-Democratic majority, before the GOP takeover of the House in 2011, managed to overcome Republican opposition, pass the Zadroga 9/11 bill, and send it to the White House for President Obama's signature.
The good news is the legislation allotted billions of dollars for medical treatment and compensation for those affected. The bad news is, the policy was put in place for five years -- and its time is nearly up. New York magazine published this report late last week:

Although the country is speckled today with events remembering what happened 14 years ago at the World Trade Center, one memorial of sorts is being saved for next week. Dozens of people will gather at the Capitol to commemorate the life of James Zadroga, the 9/11 first responder who died from a respiratory disease in 2006, and all other rescuers who have died in the past decade; there, they'll also try to pressure Congress to renew the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, the law that helps compensate and pay for the health care of 9/11 survivors and first responders that will begin to expire soon. The section of the law that helps pay for the ongoing treatment of first responders and survivors dealing with chronic diseases or respiratory disorders will expire at the end of the month. A year later, a nearly $3 billion fund -- one that helps compensate those who have suffered economic losses because of injuries that happened at Ground Zero or maladies that came later -- will also expire. If the law isn't reauthorized soon, the many people depending on it will probably receive letters from the government in the coming months telling them the program has ended, leaving them impossibly worried about how they will pay for impending or ongoing medical expenses.

So, what happens now?
Despite the looming deadlines, the Republican-led Congress has not made the reauthorization a priority, at least not yet.
Part of the problem, alas, may be partisanship. Both in the House and the Senate, the vast majority of the bill's co-sponsors are Democrats. While there are some GOP backers, they're heavily outnumbered, and none of the four Republican senators running for president has signed on to the bill at this point.
And on Capitol Hill, GOP leaders are not in the habit of prioritizing bills championed by Democrats.
Nevertheless, proponents of the Zadroga 9/11 bill intended to make a concerted push this week, and they'll reportedly be joined by Jon Stewart, who helped shame congressional Republicans into letting the bill pass in 2010.