An Historic Repeal, DREAMs die and "Worst Responders"
Posted Dec 20 2010 8:31am
If it seems to you that legislative votes in Congress are coming hot and heavy in these last weeks of 2010, you're correct.
But don't for a moment feel sorry for Congress members about how much work they're doing at the last minute, even if they whine. Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC) complained that there have been so many bills, he didn't have time to think about the START treaty.
Ahem. START has been ready for Congress to act upon since April, so let's have no tears for Mr. Graham.
But first today, we must celebrate the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell - an historic step toward full civil rights for lesbians and gays. Someone noted that the first man was kicked out the military for being gay 232 years ago. So it's been a long time coming.
Pretty much everything else Congress did last week is unconscionable.
The tax bill, which passed on Wednesday extends the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy for two years in exchange for 13 months of added unemployment benefits, although not for those who must be beyond desperate by now – the ones who have been jobless for 99 weeks or more.
For elders (which is, in time, everyone), the bill sells out Social Security to the long-term, Republican effort to kill it. When the deficit comes up for debate – which will be as soon as the new Congress convenes in January - there will increased pressure from the right to further gut the program.
(We have our work cut out for us on that next year.)
The DREAM Act failed in the Senate. This bill would have given young undocumented immigrants, whose parents brought them to the U.S. as children and about which they had no say, a path to legal citizenship. It was mostly Republicans who blocked the bill, but six Democrats, three of whose votes would have won the day for these young people, voted against it too.
As unfair and terrible as these two votes are, the one that rips out my heart is the Zadroga bill ( James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010 ) that would have created a $7 billion fund to provide health and financial aid to 9/11 first responders many of whom are fighting life-threatening health conditions as a result of the toxic material they worked in during the aftermath of the collapse of the Twin Towers.
Republicans filibustered the Zadroga bill because, they said, they would not vote on it unless the Bush tax cut for people earning more than $250,000 was extended first. Keep that in mind if you're ever inclined to vote for a Republican; tax cuts for the rich are more important to them than the health of genuine American heroes.
And keep in mind too, that for the endless coverage of every hiccup of the tax cut debate, hardly any in the media reported the defeat, on 9 December, of the Zadroga bill. Not even home town paper The New York Times which on Friday, more than a week after the fact, printed a short piece not about the failure of the bill, but about The Daily Show's final broadcast of the year on Thursday.
Stewart well represented my rage at Congress and the press, whom he dubbed "worst responders" as he turned over the entire program to the Zadroga bill. Here is part one.
On Friday, thinkprogress reported that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which lobbies for foreign corporations as well as American businesses, helped kill the Zadroga legislation:
“While Republicans quietly snuffed out efforts to compensate 9/11 heroes, they were aided by a quiet lobbying campaign by the powerful lobbying front — the U.S. Chamber of Commerce...
“In September, the Chamber sent a letter officially opposing the 9/11 first responders bill...The Chamber warned that ending the tax loophole would 'damage U.S. relationships with major trading partners' and 'aggravate already unsettled financial markets.'
"A lobbying disclosure filed with the Senate confirms the Chamber contacted lawmakers to help kill the bill.”
This is beyond shameful; it is morally bankrupt. How do any of these people sleep at night?
If all this sounds like it is personal for me, it is.
The staging area for heavy equipment used in the rescue efforts was half a block from my home in New York. The neighbors and I brought those workers coffee and doughnuts and sandwiches and soft drinks throughout the days and weeks.
There is a firehouse, also half a block from my home. I knew those guys for 20-odd years. I shopped at the market with them, shared recipes, stopped to chat when I walked past the station. One of them once defused a dangerous situation with my water heater when it was huffing, rattling and spewing steam, apparently ready to explode.
Because it was downtown, less than mile from the Trade Center, my neighborly firefighters were among the first of the first responders on 9/11, and 11 - ELEVEN - from that one firehouse were killed that day.
When I took flowers to the station the next day, there was already a pile of them in a ten-foot-wide recess in the building stacked a foot or two above my head. It was a devastating loss to the men of that firehouse, to the city and everyone in my neighborhood.
So, yes, this is personal as it undoubtedly is to every New Yorker - and more than a few Americans who didn't happen to live there nine years ago.
Senator Kirsten Gillebrand (D-NY) told the Forest Hills Patch on Friday that she believes there are the votes to pass the Zadroga bill during this session and that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is “likely” to bring the bill to the floor again.
Playing catchup to the Patch, The New York Times was finally moved to pick up the phone and get a similar statement from Senator Gillenbrand which they printed on Sunday, additionally noting that there might not be time as Congress tries to adjourn for the holidays.
So we will see how it goes this week. The Chamber of Commerce is the top-spending lobby organization.
Meanwhile, please take the time to watch the rest of Jon Stewart's show with four first responder heroes and then call or email your senators to demand that they pass the Zadroga bill.