Nadler would cut Iraq war money; says 9/11 dough should flow


By Josh Rogers

U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler said he would try to cut off funds to continue the war in Iraq when the new Congress begins this week, but he is more optimistic about his prospects of getting federal money for the health of Downtowners and other Lower Manhattan projects.

During 12 years of Republican control of the House, Nadler has often spoken of what he would be able to do if the Democrats took it back, but now that the day has arrived, the change hasn’t quite sunk in.

“It’s really going to hit me on Thursday when we start winning rather than losing the votes,” Nadler told Downtown Express in a telephone interview Tuesday.

Nadler, who voted against the resolution authorizing the Iraq war in 2002, said “I would cut off funds” to stop it.

American dissatisfaction with the war was one of the biggest reasons Democrats won control of Congress in November according to exit polls, but since the election, Democratic leaders have repeatedly ruled out using their purse power to bring the troops home. Nadler said this is because the position is easy to attack as abandoning soldiers on the battlefield. The way to combat that, Nadler said, is to authorize the Pentagon to spend the necessary money to protect the forces as they withdraw, but not to continue the war.

Asked if he thought the Democratic leaders were too timid, he said “they’re being more timid than I would be,” but then said timid was the wrong word. His aide suggested “cautious,” and Nadler added “more cautious than I would be.”

Nadler has had a few conversations with new House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and he is bullish on the Wall St. area’s prospects in the new Congress.

He said he and Sen. Hillary Clinton will reintroduce their bill to provide Medicare coverage to any worker or resident whose health is suffering because of the environmental fallout of 9/11. About 70 percent of the World Trade Center site workers suffered health effects from 9/11 according to a Mount Sinai study, and based on that percentage, Nadler thinks at least 50,000 people are likely to use Medicare under the bill.

The total costs of the program would run in the billions, but Nadler said since Medicare already accepts about 2 million new recipients a year, it will not strain a system that provides health care to senior citizens. “Fifty to 100,000 is tiny,” he said. “Medicare can handle it.”

Under the bill, it would be up to doctors to determine if their patients’ respiratory or other problems were caused by the toxic dust spread with the collapse of the Twin Towers. Nadler’s optimistic about the bill’s chances but he said one obstacle will be if his colleagues require more concrete proof of a 9/11 cause. When asked if residents and office workers could get cut out of the bill so that only ground zero workers are covered, Nadler pointed to this evidence problem.

“It’s very difficult to prove,” he said. “If there is a split between residents and [recovery] workers, it will be that.”

The death of at least one W.T.C. worker has already been attributed to the disaster and Nadler said he will not be surprised at all if residents exposed to the dust get cancer in higher percentages 20 years from now. Many residents have developed respiratory ailments, although the cause has not been proven.

“We’re going to do a lot things on 9/11 health and environmental problems,” he said.

Nadler plans to hold hearings to expose what he called the “second cover-up” of 9/11 environmental problems. The first, in his view, was the danger to ground zero workers, which is not in dispute now, and the second is the danger to workers and residents who were exposed to the dust.

Right after 9/11, Environmental Protection Agency leader Christie Whitman said the air was safe to breathe before she had the evidence to back the claim. However, in interviews with Downtown Express in the months following the attack, E.P.A. officials said the air at the site was dangerous and that residents should assume the W.T.C. dust in their apartments was toxic.

The E.P.A. though, did not begin testing and cleaning Lower Manhattan apartments until a year after the attack. That program and its follow-up announced late last year was criticized by some scientists, Nadler, and many Downtowners.

In the new Congress, Nadler is expected to become chairperson of the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, where he could lead hearings on issues as wide ranging as gay marriage, which Nadler favors, as well as N.S.A. wiretapping and detentions without due process, which he has criticized.

He was the ranking member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in the last Congress, but since House members are allowed to lead only one committee or subcommittee, he will remain a senior member of Transportation. In the minority, Nadler was able to secure some earmarks for the Hudson River Park and many other projects in his district through this committee, but he is likely to have more clout in the 110th Congress.

He stopped short of saying his district would get more earmark money with his party in power, but he suggested that it is likely. Earmarks, or projects inserted into the federal budget by individual members, grew from about 3,500 a year to 14,000 under the Republicans, Nadler said, and one colleague told him they were weighted 17 to one in favor of the G.O.P. Even if Democrats keep a smaller percentage of the money than Republicans did, and there is a reduction in the number of overall earmarks, which have been criticized by many as being wasteful, he said his constituents may end up seeing more money.

His district includes almost all of Lower Manhattan, the Village, Chelsea, the Upper West Side as well as several Brooklyn neighborhoods, including Coney Island and Borough Park.

Nadler said with Democrats in control, he thinks he may be able to change the Verrazano Bridge tolls. Twenty years ago, Congress ended the Verrazano two-way toll system in deference to Staten Island politicians and residents. Nadler, some urban planners and environmentalists have long asserted that the change led to more pollution because it encouraged trucks to drive into already-congested Lower Manhattan.

Nadler has said many times over the years that if the Democrats got control of Congress, he could convince Sen. Chuck Schumer to support changing the tolls back. Nadler, who plans to meet with Schumer soon, said he will have a better sense in a few weeks what the chances were, but he suspects they’re good.

“I think the political stars are aligned in a way to do it,” he said.

Schumer’s spokesperson did not return a call for comment Wednesday.