Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Tom Coburn looks to block passage of health-care benefits for 9/11 First Responders

Full credit, or almost full credit, to Jon Stewart for raising awareness of the urgent health-care needs of 9/11 First Responders at a time when most in the media, and so many in Washington, couldn't be bothered, and for advocating swift passage of the Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act.

As Slate's Chris Beam notes, examining Stewart's undesired role as partisan political activist, "[t]he bill wasn't as far from passage as it seemed -- Stewart just shined a light on the issue at the right moment." But even if it was close to passage, Republicans were still blocking it, at least until the tax deal was passed. And it was getting so bad for Republicans, PR-wise, that even some conservatives were slamming them for blocking what should be a slam dunk (or at least, like Giuliani, Huckabee, and Pataki, advising them to get on board). Who, after all, opposes health care benefits for courageous 9/11 First Responders?

Well, how about Oklahoma's Tom Coburn?

Amid mounting pressure from Democrats and a growing handful of Republicans to pass a bill that would provide health care benefits to first responders who were at the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Oklahoma Republican Sen. Tom Coburn announced on Monday his intentions to block passage of the legislation.

He tells Politico that he "wouldn't allow the bill to move quickly" due to "problems with parts of the bill and the process Democrats are employing" to pass it.

Coburn  defended his position in a Tuesday morning interview on Fox News, arguing that "this is a bill that's been drawn up and forced through Congress at the end of the year on a basis to solve a problem that we didn't have time to solve and we didn't get done."

Coburn also argued that the bill, entitled the Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, "hasn't even been through a committee." Coburn added: "We haven't had the testimony to know." (ThinkProgress notes that on June 29, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions -- on which Coburn sits -- held a hearing on the bill. But Coburn's office says that doesn't amount to having gone "through a committee.")

The testimony to know what? Whether 9/11 First Responders deserve health care? Why do you need a committee to tell you that? I appreciate the committee process, but isn't this a prime example of a bill that should be allowed to circumvent process?

It's bad enough that Senate Republicans -- all of them, let us remember -- were prepared to block this and all legislation until the tax deal was passed, as if tax cuts for the wealthy are more important than health care for 9/11 First Responders (to Republicans, they seem to be), worse that Democrats still had to get Republicans to haggle over the cost of the bill (and how it would be paid for -- now a fee on federal contracts instead of closing a corporate tax loophole), as if the health care benefits of these courageous men and women should have to be subjected to the right-wing Republican agenda, and worse still that this one Republican is threatening to kill it altogether. (And is he really against it for procedural reasons, or is he just against it period -- you know, because it's government health care?)

And is he alone? As Fox News's Shep Smith discovered, a lot of Republicans don't even want to talk about it. So are they with Coburn or not?

I suspect that the bill will be passed -- another major victory for Democrats during the lame-duck session. But it won't be easy, given Coburn's opposition, and it says a lot about Republicans (and not just Coburn), that it's come to this point.

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