Hours after two New York congressmen engaged in a shouting match on the House floor over whose political party is to blame for the failure of a bill that would have provided up to $7.4 billion in aid to people sickened by World Trade Center dust, the two continued their verbal slugfest Friday during a joint appearance on Fox News.
Democratic Rep. Anthony Weiner noted that 94 percent of all House Democrats voted for the bill, which would have provided free health care and compensation payments to rescue and recovery workers who fell ill after working at Ground Zero after the September 11 terrorist attacks.
But only 12 Republicans voted for the bill, which failed to win the needed two-thirds majority.
"Pretty outrageous, you know," Weiner said. "This is not something that got rushed through. This is nine years in the making. Nine years worth of people getting sick and dying when the only thing they did wrong, so to speak, was to come to Ground Zero and helping dig out neighbors."
"Unfortunately, the 'Party of No' hit a new low last night," Weiner said.
But Republican Rep. Peter King, who was a sponsor of the bill, accused Democrats of "moral cowardice" for requiring a two-thirds majority to approve the bill, instead of a simple majority.
King said Democrats were "petrified" about casting votes as the November elections near on controversial amendments, possibly including one that could ban the bill from covering illegal immigrants who were sickened by Trade Center dust.
"The bottom line is the Democrats control the House," King said. "They pulled a procedural gimmick … and decided to go for a two-thirds majority vote because they were afraid to vote on the controversial amendment."
For weeks now, a judge and teams of lawyers have been urging 10,000 former Ground Zero workers to sign on to a court-supervised settlement that would split $713 million among people who developed respiratory problems and other illnesses after inhaling World Trade Center ash.
The court deal shares some similarities with the aid program that the federal legislation would have created, but it involves far less money. Only the most seriously ill of the thousands of police officers, firefighters and construction workers suing New York City over their exposure to the dust would be eligible for a hefty payout.
But supporters of the deal have been saying the court settlement is the only realistic option for the sick, because Congress will never act.
"Hearing the truth is going to hurt," Weiner said, "and the truth is Democrats overwhelmingly supported this, and every day on the streets of New York, I hear people say why don't you guys have an up or down vote. We had one last night. They voted it down," Weiner said, pointing to King.
"A simple majority goes through," King fired back.
"Stop whining and the get bill passed," Weiner said.
"They wanted to make a chief political point," King said.
"We made the point," Weiner said, interrupting King. "We support it, Your guys don't. That's outrageous."
To pay the bill's estimated $7.4 billion cost over 10 years, the legislation would have prevented foreign multinational corporations incorporated in tax haven countries from avoiding tax on income earned in the U.S.
Bill supporters said that would close a tax loophole; Republicans branded it a corporate tax increase.
Nevertheless, with the House rejecting the bill and no vote scheduled on a similar Senate version, it appears almost guaranteed that there will be no new federal law by Sept. 8, the date by which ground zero workers involved in the lawsuits must decide whether to accept the settlement offer.
Under the terms of the deal, 95 percent of those workers must say yes for the court settlement to take effect.
The exact number of ailing rescue workers is unclear. Nearly 15,900 people received treatment last year through medical programs set up to treat Sept. 11-related illnesses, but doctors say many of those people suffered from conditions that are common in the general public.
The House bill 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.