WASHINGTON — After a filibuster and threats of obstruction by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), the Senate unanimously passed a bill on Wednesday that would provide health care for first responders to the 9/11 terrorist attack. Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Chuck Schumer reached a deal with Republican senators to support the bill earlier in the afternoon.
Gillibrand and Schumer, the bill’s chief sponsors, lobbied hard for the legislation to be introduced again in the lame-duck session, when they could still ensure House support. But on Tuesday, they hit a snag when Coburn vowed to block the bill, saying he wanted it to be funded through spending cuts.
Coburn also claimed the bill had been fast-tracked and skipped committee. But in fact the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions held a hearing on the bill in June — Coburn, a committee member, missed it.
Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) also said he would oppose the bill so the Senate could hold hearings on it in the future.
But just before leaving town for Christmas, senators reached a deal to ensure Republican support for the bill. It will now go for a vote by unanimous consent. The House remained in Washington to act on the bill.
The new deal reduces the cost of the bill by $6.2 billion from its previous Senate version and $7.5 billion from the version that passed the House, according to a statement from Coburn’s office. It calls for closing the Victims Compensation Fund in 2016 instead of 2031, preventing claimants from pursuing civil lawsuits if rejected from the fund, and limiting infrastructure costs and attorney fees.