- Associated Press - Monday, December 20, 2010

WASHINGTON (AP) — Sens. Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, New York Democrats, said Monday that the votes are there for Congress to approve a scaled-back bill providing extra benefits to emergency workers who responded to the attacks on the World Trade Center.

But Mr. Schumer expressed concern that opponents might use a filibuster to kill the bill as Congress tries to complete its business for the year this week.

“If no one does undue delay — just stands up and delays and delays and delays — we will get this done,” Mr. Schumer said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “And that’s my plea to my colleagues in both the House and Senate: Please don’t delay this bill. Let it come to a vote, and we will win.”

Republicans have raised concerns about the bill’s cost and how to pay for it.

Mr. Schumer and Mrs. Gillibrand said they had picked up support by trimming the bill’s price tag from $7.4 billion to $6.2 billion in response to Republican concerns. The House and Senate both would need to approve the bill before lawmakers adjourn for the year, or supporters will have to start anew in the next year’s Congress, when the GOP will control the House and have greater strength in the Senate.

Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand, New York Democrat (Associated Press) ** FILE **
Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand, New York Democrat (Associated Press) ** FILE ** more >

Mr. Schumer said he has spoken with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, about the 9/11 bill and said Mrs. Pelosi “wants to do everything we can to get it done.”

Speaking on CBS’ “Early Show,” Mrs. Gillibrand said she expects the Senate to consider the legislation after it votes on President Obama’s nuclear arms control treaty with Russia, which is scheduled for Tuesday.

“These were the men and women who were racing up and down the tower,” Mrs. Gillibrand said, adding, “I can tell you a lot of them are dying.”

The bill would provide extra medical and economic benefits to those who reached the twin towers shortly after terrorists crashed two jetliners into the skyscrapers on Sept. 11, 2001. Many of those emergency workers got sick after working in the tower dust and have since developed “horrible cancers” and died, Mrs. Gillibrand said. Their average age was 46.

Supporters were three votes short of the 60 votes they needed for the original bill on a recent Senate test vote. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, 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 people who rushed to the towers after 9/11, they’re our heroes,” Mr. Schumer said. “Just like veterans they volunteered and risked their lives for us at a time of war. American tradition is we don’t turn our backs on them no matter what state they’re from, no matter what party you’re from. I see at these last moments the Congress coming together along those lines.”

The original bill would have required multinational companies incorporated in tax havens to pay taxes on income earned in the United States. 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 also would extend fees on travelers who don’t present visa travel documents at U.S. airports.

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 exactly how many people are ill, and scientific doubt persists about just how many of the hundreds of illnesses actually are linked to the trade center dust.