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House Passes 9/11 First Responders Bill

(Credit: AP/Beth A. Keiser)

(Credit: AP/Beth A. Keiser)

Marcia Kramer thumbnail Marcia Kramer
Marcia Kramer joined CBS 2 in 1990 as an investigative and political...
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NEW YORK (CBS New York) – Nine years after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center,  a bill to provide health benefits to responders sickened by working at Ground Zero was passed in the House of Representatives by a vote of 268-160.

LISTEN: WCBS 880’s Peter Haskell with Rep. Carolyn Maloney
LISTEN: WCBS 880’s Peter Haskell with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand

After hours of passionate debate, the House finally passed a bill that will provide health care to first responders after the 9/11 attacks.

Republicans didn’t go down without a fight, but an attempt to have the 9/11 health bill recommitted – and not voted on – failed. A bipartisan group of congressmen from New York and New Jersey delivered the votes.

After all the setbacks to the bill, its final passage was a joyous moment, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi basked in it.

“On this vote, the yeas are 268, the nays are 160, the bill passes,” Pelosi said.

LISTEN: 1010 WINS’ Steve Sandberg reports
LISTEN: WCBS 880’s Peter Haskell reports

There were wild cheers from the House gallery, where busloads of 9/11 responders were waiting for that very moment – the moment when the House passed the 9/11 bill to help rescue and recovery workers, residents, students and others at ground zero to get the health care and compensation they need to survive.

Passage of the historic legislation didn’t happen without a fight, though.

“This is not an entitlement, this is a responsibility to take care of those who took care of us when our country was attacked,” Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) said.

Republican critics branded the bill as yet another big-government entitlement program that would boost taxes and kill jobs.

“This is another example of Congress’ insatiable appetite for the taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars,” Congressman Lamar Smith (R-Tex.) said. I urge my colleagues to vote no on the bill.”

Mayor Bloomberg called the passage of the bill “a significant moment in a fight we have waged for years.” The bill still needs to be brought up in the Senate, and Bloomberg urged that it be done “before the current Congress goes out of session.”

“It’s not enough to pass a bill in the House – we need to make this legislation law,” Bloomberg said.

“We will do all we can to make sure the Senate does what it has to do, and you can finally get justice after all these years,” Rep. Peter King said.

“We won a major victory today and I’m overjoyed. Today we put aside a little politics and we did a little right and a little good,” Rep. Jerrold Nadler said.

The bill was named for James Zadroga, an NYPD detective who died of a respiratory illness due to working at ground zero. The legislation is probably most meaningful to people like retired firefighter Kenny Specht, who was forced to leave the job he loved when he became ill.

“I had difficulty breathing,” Specht said. “I had my gall bladder removed. I was diagnosed with cancer in 2007.”

Specht sifted through toxic ash at ground zero for nearly two months after 9/11, and he thinks that’s what made him sick.

“What was burning down there, what those buildings had become when they collapsed, we didn’t take it only through our nose,” Specht said. “We took it in through our eyes, we took it in through our ears.”

Since the bill is still a political hot potato for some, it is not expected to be taken up in the Senate until after the November elections. President Barack Obama said he is eager to sign it.