WASHINGTON - New York's two senators 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 one of them, Charles 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," the New York Democrat 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. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, also a Democrat, said they'd 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 would both 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. Schumer said he's spoken to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., about the 9/11 bill and said Pelosi "wants to do everything we can to get it done."
Speaking on CBS' "Early Show," Gillibrand said she expects the Senate to consider the legislation after it votes on President Barack 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," 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, 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. Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, 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 people who rushed to the towers after 9/11, they're our heroes," 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 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.
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 are actually linked to the trade center dust.