Thursday, December 23, 2010

9/11 Health Bill Passes in Senate

Here is what working together looks like: the 9/11 Health Bill passed in the Senate as the lame duck session concluded. $4.2 billion in aid for the 9/11 health bill recipients was approved for those heroic men and women who served as first responders and then the search and rescue crews and last, as the clean up workers who are now sick and dying for the effects of the toxins present at the scene.

The package provides $1.5 billion to monitor the health of rescue and cleanup workers and to treat illnesses related to ground zero. It also reopens a victims' compensation fund with $2.7 billion.

Hyper-partisan Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) acknowledged that Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) was a true and honest partner in the effort. Coburn insisted that the billions of dollars be accounted for and paid for in a realistic way. Instead of the normal vilification of an opponent, as is his history, Schumer remained calm and forged on in a continuing dialogue with Coburn and Senator Enzi on the GOP side of the aisle.

The junior Senator from New York is the big winner here. Senator Kristin Gillibrand has come into her own during this lame duck session. First with her impassioned pleas for passing the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, and then the 9/11 Health Bill.

Once derided as an accidental senator, lampooned for her verbosity and threatened with many challengers who openly doubted her abilities, a succinct, passionate and effective Senator Gillibrand has made her presence felt in the final days of this Congress.

Her efforts have won grudging admiration from critics, adulation from national liberals and gay rights groups, and accolades from New York politicians across the political spectrum, including Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who once shopped for potential candidates to oust her.

Even her relentlessness, which once drew mockery, is now earning the highest compliment of all: professional jealousy from her more senior colleagues.

Gillibrand has proven herself a serious member of the Senate and a hard worker, to boot. She was right to be passionate in her quest to assure those suffering from illnesses related to the aftermath of the attacks of 9/11/01 are taken care of by a set aside fund. And, Senator Coburn was correct in his pursuit of the truth of where the money was to come from and how it would be spent.

This is what it looks like for the grown-ups to be front and center in a political debate and solution. Take away the name calling and the stubborn insistence of the tunnel visioned ideologues from both sides of the aisle and work together to do the business of the American people. Some issues are bigger than pure politics.

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