The 9/11 bill passes -- but should it really have been this hard?
The bill extending medical benefits to 9/11 responders passed today. It had been held up because, well, it's not exactly clear.
At one point, Sen. Tom Coburn said the problem was the bill hadn't had a hearing in committee. That was untrue: It had been heard and passed through the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee -- the very committee Coburn sits on. It turned out he just hadn't shown up to the hearing.
At other times, Coburn said that the problem was that the bill wasn't paid for. That also wasn't true: The bill was fully offset by closing a tax break for foreign corporations that operated in the United States. Coburn had also supported the unpaid-for extension of the Bush tax cuts under the theory that "It’s not a cost. That’s where we are today. That’s the baseline. It doesn’t score anything to continue them." None of that is true, incidentally. The budget baseline does not include the extension of the Bush tax cuts, and so they score as a cost.
Coburn eventually released a "detailed outline" on his opposition to the legislation. It's detailed, but it's not particularly persuasive. It really just throws a lot of spaghetti against the wall to see what sticks. Coburn argues, for instance, that "government health care benefits crowd-out private benefits. Private plans will have incentive to drop coverage for procedures and health care entities in which enrolled patients can receive benefits through the 9/11 program." The idea that "crowd-out" would be a problem when you're dealing with a population as small and unique as 9/11 responders is laughable. Coburn's document also relied on his office's calculations of the bill's cost ($10.4 billion), rather than the Congressional Budget Office's ($7 billion).
The bill finally did pass, but only once Democrats shaved it from $7 billion in benefits to $4.3 billion in benefits. It's quite a place for the GOP, which just fought to extend $700 billion in tax cuts for the rich, to begin cutting back. To get a sense of the people and problems we're talking about here, watch this interview Chris Hayes conducted with a 9/11 responder who subsequently lost 30 percent of his lung capacity due to inhalation of particulates at Ground Zero:
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