After months of GOP obstruction, a bill to help 9/11 first responders cover their mounting health care costs is expected to zip through Congress. In addition to being a feather in the cap of New York and New Jersey Democrats — who have been pushing the bill for months — it will likely enjoy the distinction of being the last legislative item to pass the unusually productive 111th Congress lame duck session.
Republicans have blocked the bill in both the House and Senate over objections to its cost and financing mechanisms, but with a combination of tweaks and public pressure, Democrats say they’ve rounded up the 60 votes they’ll need to break the filibuster. And with members eager to skip town for the holidays, the House and Senate have lined up to expedite final passage.
The Senate is expected to end the filibuster this afternoon, shortly after ratifying the START treaty. Under normal circumstances, angry Republicans could force Democrats to wait around for an additional 30 hours before allowing a final up or down vote on the bill. But it looks like that won’t happen this time, and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer will be playing wide receiver — keeping the House in session to drag the bill across the finish line.
“[Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid] indicates that he believes he can get a bill to me” this afternoon, Hoyer said this morning on the Bill Press radio show.
Opponents of the bill, lead by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), call the bill a “new entitlement” and object to the fact that it’s paid for by closing foreign corporate tax loophole. Coburn has also complained that the bill hasn’t traveled through normal legislative channels on its way to the Senate floor. In fact, he penned a seven-page memo explaining his objections at length.
In the end, though, the political potency of the issue helped Democrats round up enough votes to beat back Coburn’s objections. Just yesterday, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs praised “The Daily Show” host Jon Stewart for helping to bring public pressure to bear on Congress to pass the bill.
“I think he has put the awareness around this legislation — he’s put that awareness into what you guys cover each day, and I think that’s good,” Gibbs said. “I hope he can convince two Republicans to support taking care of those that took care of so many on that awful day in our history.”
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at email@example.com.