WASHINGTON - A bill to give up to $7.4 billion to workers sickened during the cleanup of World Trade Center site after the Sept. 11 attacks passed in the House on Wednesday after a passionate floor debate in which supporters said they were standing up for heroes.
"To the living victims of 9/11, we have good news: Help is on the way," said Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., a lead advocate for the bill.
New York lawmakers have been pushing for years for such a measure, which passed 268-160.
Similar legislation is pending in the Senate, but with Congress departing until after the fall midterm elections, prospects for passage are unclear. New York lawmakers said they will push to bring the bill to the Senate floor once Congress returns for its lame duck session.
"Today, members of the House put aside politics and made history by voting in favor of justice and care for the first responders and survivors of 9/11," said Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y.
Ailing 9/11 responders were among those in the House gallery for the vote.
Republican critics branded the bill as a big-government program that would boost taxes and kill jobs.
Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, called it a "new entitlement program that we simply cannot afford."
Texas Republican Lamar Smith complained the measure "creates a huge slush fund open to abuse, fraud and waste."
The bill would provide free health care and compensation to rescue and recovery workers who fell ill after working in the trade center ruins.
Questions remain about what illnesses might have been caused by the soot, which many workers inhaled because they had no respirators that might have protected their lungs.
Scientists have documented elevated levels of an asthma-like illness among many workers. But doctors also say that many workers who are sick are suffering from common conditions, and that there may be no link to trade center dust.
It was a second showdown for the bill, which failed to pass in a July vote.
To pay the bill's estimated $7.4 billion cost over 10 years, the legislation requires 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. Republicans branded it a corporate tax increase.
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.
Associated Press writer David B. Caruso in New York City contributed to this report.