WASHINGTON — Backers of a bill in Congress to help people who became sick after working in the World Trade Center dust created by the Sept. 11 attacks said Sunday they're optimistic the Senate will approve the measure before the lame-duck session ends.
"We are on the verge of a Christmas miracle," said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.
Gillibrand and Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., are offering a less-costly alternative to the original bill to aid 9/11 responders and survivors, saying that they believe it will gain needed support from the GOP. They said the Senate was expected to consider the new bill once they finish dealing with the U.S.-Russia treaty on nuclear weapons.
"Barring a setback, we believe we are on the path to victory by the end of the week," Schumer said.
To raise pressure for the bill, a group of 9/11 responders plans to gather outside the White House on Tuesday to urge President Obama to get involved in the fight to pass it.
Supporters were three votes short of the 60 votes they needed for the original bill on a recent Senate test vote. Sen. Harry Reid, the Democratic leader, switched his vote to "no" at the last moment, a parliamentary move that allows him to bring the measure up again for a vote.
The House has passed the original bill but would have to consider any new version as the final days of the lame-duck session wear down. New York lawmakers are pressing House Democratic leaders to stay in session long enough to vote after the Senate acts on the new bill.
Republicans have raised concerns about the original bill's cost and how to pay for it. The new bill's cost is scaled back from $7.4 billion over 10 years to $6.2 billion.
The original bill would have required multinational companies incorporated in tax havens to pay taxes on income earned in the U.S. Bill supporters said that would close a tax loophole, but Republicans have branded it a corporate tax increase.
Instead, the new bill would be paid for with a fee on some foreign firms that get U.S. government procurement contracts. The bill also calls for extending fees on certain firms that rely on H-1B and L-1 visas. It would also extend fees on travelers who don't present visa travel documents at U.S. airports.
Schumer said he believed the new provisions to pay for the bill would be "noncontroversial" with other lawmakers.
New York and New Jersey lawmakers have waged a long, bitter fight for the measure, saying it is morally wrong not to do more for the health needs of ailing 9/11 responders and survivors.
Researchers have found that people exposed to the thick clouds of pulverized building materials at the trade center site have high rates of asthma and sinus problems. Doctors aren't sure, though, exactly how many people are ill, and scientific doubt persists about just how many of the hundreds of illnesses are actually linked to the trade center dust.
The legislation is named for James Zadroga, a police detective who died at age 34. His supporters say he died from respiratory disease contracted at ground zero, but New York City's medical examiner said Zadroga's lung condition was caused by prescription drug abuse.