Weiner Writes From Capitol Hill
You may have seen how angry I was on the House floor last week. But the story behind that 110 second video clip is one of years of delay and some outrageous tactics by my Republican colleagues who have denied heroic Americans important relief. This should make you angry, too.
Thousands of people came to Ground Zero after the attacks. They weren’t called. They volunteered to come without extra compensation. They weren’t complaining. They were doing what Americans at their best do - helping in a crisis.
But they were also putting their lives at risk. Despite assurances from their government that the air was safe to breathe, we now know that they were inhaling dangerous smoke and debris.
Nine years later, 900 of these first responders have perished from 9/11-related diseases with many more heroes across the country dying every year.
Last Thursday, we had a chance to take an important step forward by finally bringing a bill to the floor of Congress that would have provided treatment, screening, and compensation to the thousands of Americans who sacrificed their health and safety both on 9/11 and during the cleanup that followed. In what 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.
Twelve. Just 21 additional Republican votes would have been enough to secure the bill’s passage.
It was frustrating enough to hear some Republicans honestly say they didn’t believe these people deserved any help. For example, Bob Goodlatte of Virginia even said, “people are injured, people are killed all the time. We do not have compensation funds for them. We have normal procedures, normal processes through which people receive assistance.”
But what really made me upset were the comments of my Republican colleague from Long Island - one of the sponsors of the bill - who failed to use his time during debate to urge his colleagues to put down their partisan swords for a moment and vote for the bill. Instead, he did the opposite.
He barely mentioned the bill and instead attacked Democrats for bringing the bill up on the part of the day’s calendar devoted to non-controversial bills.
You heard right. Democrats were attacked not because of the merits of the bill, but because of what part of the calendar it came up on. The goal was to make the issue of 9/11 health just another partisan issue.
Obviously, this made me angry.
It made me angry to see my colleague provide cover so that other Republicans could vote “No” for phony reasons. It made me angry that he spent his energy defending Republicans who voted against the measure, instead of pleading with them to vote “Yes.”
It made me angry because, at some point, we have to draw a line in politics and say that doing what’s right matters. If that’s not protecting the people who risked their health to help on 9/11, then when?
The appalling reality is that this has become the Republican way of doing business. On every important issue, they bob, duck, and weave - complaining incessantly about an unfair process when in fact their abiding objective is to stop anything from passing.
Just last week they submitted a list of objections to the already scaled back small business tax credit legislation that has been bottled up in the Senate. After the Democrats agreed to make changes to the bill, the GOP leadership said they would still filibuster it.
Instead of a real debate about how to address the challenges we face, obstruction has become a partisan Republican tactic that they apply, no matter the issue.
And while Republicans claim they want an open process full of consultation, debate and amendments, the truth is that these complaints are just a subterfuge to disguise the fact that Republicans don’t want to pass bills in the interest of scoring political points.
Sure, I was angry last week. I’m still angry.
Maybe if my colleagues in Washington saw issues like health care for 9/11 responders as more than just a game, we’d all be better off. I know more than a few first responders who have so much toxic stew in their lungs that they can’t yell even if they wanted too. I’m sure they and their families would give us all an earful.
But they should start with the 93% of Republicans in Congress who voted “no” on a down-payment on the debt we owe the victims of the attacks on our nation.
So when I heard a fellow New Yorker get up and defend Republicans who would deny first responders care on the grounds of process, it’s not surprising I got angry.