9/11 First Responders’ Health Care: Did Coburn Win?

Tom Coburn took 9/11 first responders hostage — and might have won.

At least that’s what TPM reports:

Dems rounded up the votes they needed to break Coburn’s filibuster earlier this week, and spent much of the morning and early afternoon negotiating with him to prevent him from delaying passage of the legislation by several days.

Coburn’s price: a reduction of the price tag from $6.2 billion to $4.2 billion.

It is December 22nd: even Tom Coburn can’t delay a bill in the Senate all by himself, past January 4th — the last legal day of the session IIRC.

What happened?  Most likely, Coburn agreed to be the stalking horse for the rest of the Republican Caucus, which was prepared to join him and perhaps sustain a filibuster.  The question was whether the GOP could have resisted media scrutiny and generated enough false talking points to run out the clock.  Finally, it decided that the answer was no — but the Democrats were worried that the answer might be yes.

Slicing the bill’s price tag meant that it extends over five years instead of ten.  Does that matter?  I would think so: a chronic illness doesn’t stop after five years because the federal funding runs out.

It’s possible, of course, that slicing the bill price made it better.  But given Coburn’s transparently mendacious excuses in the past about it — there were no hearings (false) or that it was illegitimate to consider it in a lame duck session (false and fraudulent, since the GOP had prevented it from being considered earlier), it’s hard to take an argument like this seriously.

In any event, Coburn was able to water down the bill.  Hopefully, this does not harm any of the first responders who risked themselves for his freedom.  But just remember this the next time Republicans tell you how much they care about national security.

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.

7 thoughts on “9/11 First Responders’ Health Care: Did Coburn Win?”

  1. Is this really a win for Coburn? According to TPM,

    The legislation would provide first responders with five years of health care coverage and give them fresh access to a compensation fund for people who became ill because of exposure to harmful inhalants at ground zero.

    Won't most of the illness show up in the first five years? And surely this issue can be revisited, possibly through special provisions in health care legislation, at some point. It looks to me like getting the principle established, along with reasonable funding for five years (assuming $4.2 billion is a reasonable amount) is a valuable accomplishment.

  2. …But just remember this the next time Republicans tell you how much they care about national security.

    Don't forget Bush saying "Alright, you've covered your ass." to a memo entitled "Bin Laden determined to strike in the US." The most masterful piece of politics in the past decade was W dodging blame for 9/11.

  3. Bernard, you may very well be right, but a reduction of $2 billion in compensation funds is quite significant; I have no idea where that figure came from except that that was good enough for Coburn, who couldn't care at all about whether it's enough (and in fact probably wants it to be inadequate, in order to demonstrate the inadequacy of all government). Ask Coburn whether his multimillionaires would agree to a 33% reduction in their tax cuts. I agree with you that most diseases of these sorts would show up within 5 years from today, but I am not sure. Most importantly, with the GOP embracing the toxic combination of nihilism and social darwinism, there is no such thing as getting a principle established. In five years, we'll be right back where we started. I hope that's good enough — we'd be right back where we started in ten years under the original bill — but I'm not sure it is. And no one seems to be asking that question.

  4. Exactly how did the first responders–God bless them–risk themselves for anyone's freedom? I don't understand anyone's freedom being at risk at Ground Zero after 9/11.

    Health benefits are a small part of the package. A majority of the money both in the bill that failed and in the bill that won passage are for economic losses.

  5. I didn't see Jonathan's follow up til now, but now I understand: this is about partisan-motivated ignorance of the policy, all in the name of higher taxes. Ok then.

  6. Thomas- 9/11 responders worked in an environment full of toxic dust. What's more they worked without benefit of protective gear, it seems for PR because for some insane reason the powers that be didn't want people to know there were toxic materials present (probably the standard GOP knee jerk response to the existance of all toxins in the world: 'don't be silly, real men ain't a-scaired of a little poison').

    If we recall, the initial response was to try to find survivors, hence the dive in and damn the consequences attitude. As hope faded for survivors it seemed to take on a compulsive life of it's own as a point of honor for the workers and honor to the dead.

    I've not read the bill so I don't know about financial loss provissions but if injury takes away someones ability to make a living, well the reason it is called making a living is because it is how one lives as in not to die of say starvation or exposure and such. Believe it or not there are people who die from lack of money. Not much point in treating cancer for a guy living in a cardboard box in the alley.

  7. Thomas, please stick with addressing the issues. Fred made a point about economic damages which you ignored in favor of an ad-hominem attack. It's not the first time this has happened. Do you post here because you wish to promote your political ideas or are you just looking for emotional release? If it's the former, your approach is counter-productive. If it's the latter, my experience says you will inevitably end up banned because you will become increasingly unable to pretend it's the former.

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