The Senate's last-minute passage
of a $4.3 billion health care package yesterday for 9/11 first
responders has been deemed a "Christmas miracle
." This may be true, but
like all miraculous legislative happenings, it required shrewd political
horse-trading. Specifically: cutting $1.9 billion in costs from the
$6.2 billion version of the bill that failed a senate test vote earlier
this month, a number already below the $7.4 billion in benefits and
compensation approved by the House. And while $4.3 billion is better
than nothing, some suggested the Democrats' Christmas miracle was more
of a Christmas cave-in.
- Coburn Victorious Salon's Alex
Pareene says the big winner yesterday was not New York City cops
and firefighters, but Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn, who had been threatening
to block the bill. "[Coburn's] dropping his threat because he won,"
writes Pareene. The decision by Democrats to "pass the bill using
unanimous consent, so that they [could] finish the lame duck session
before Christmas" meant "negotiators were forced to acquiesce to
Coburn's demand that the bill become significantly less generous."
Because of Coburn, the bill has been pared down to "$1.5 for benefits
and $2.7 for compensation" and contains language stipulating that the
Victims Compensation Fund "permanently close after five years," down
from twenty years in the original version.
- Buffaloed The
Washington Post's Ezra
Klein doesn't understand why Democrats allowed Coburn to bamboozle
them into reducing the size and scope of the bill so drastically. His
objections were those of somebody "throwing a lot of spaghetti against
the wall to see what sticks." Klein cites Coburn's contention that the
bill would "crowd out" private insurance companies as indicative of the
kind of non-issues Democrats yielded ground on. "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," writes Klein,
especially considering the GOP "just fought to extend $700 billion in
tax cuts for the rich."
- Big Flaw? A Democratic aide tells Greg
Sargent that ending the fund after five years is just a way to "cap
costs and set a deadline," but The Washington Post blogger remains
skeptical. Only time will tell "whether the reduction in the amounts for
benefits and compensation means a cut in benefits for individual first
responders or a reduction in the number eligible."
- Limited Scope
Turner says the new version of the bill contains stricter language
with regard to oversight and how funds are administered. These measures
include "GAO reports to determine less expensive mechanisms to provide
nationwide care, pharmaceutical access, and health information
technology promotion" and a written guarantee to all Senators from the
fund's Special Master that he will "include workers compensation
benefits in collateral sources of benefits that he must offset from
potential compensation awards" in order to deter double-dipping.
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