Obama backs 9/11 health bill


By Josh Rogers

Barack Obama’s campaign said last week that he supports an $11 billion bill to provide care and monitoring to anyone who is having health problems because of 9/11.

“Yes, Obama does support the bill,” Blake Zeff, New York communications director for the presidential campaign, wrote in an email to Downtown Express last Thursday. Obama’s support for the bill was first reported at downtownexpress.com later that day, Oct. 2.

The bill would reopen the 9/11 victims compensation fund to provide health money for people who can demonstrate health problems from the toxic chemicals and dust that covered Lower Manhattan after 9/11.

There have been several deaths attributed to 9/11, and doctors from Mount Sinai, St. Vincent’s and other medical centers say they have treated many people who worked at ground zero or lived or worked in the area who are suffering from respiratory and other ailments they believe were caused by the attack.

Sen. Hillary Clinton, Obama’s primary opponent, has led the fight in the Senate to get a measure passed, although she has not introduced a new bill. She is working on a bill that can pass the Senate, but advocates don’t expect it to be introduced until next year.

A House version of the bill failed to pass two weeks ago when Mayor Mike Bloomberg withdrew his support after raising objections to the city’s financial obligations.

The New York Times reported that Obama and Clinton spoke at length on the Senate floor last Wednesday during the debate on the Wall St. bailout package, but it’s unclear if the 9/11 health bill was discussed.

Eric Bederman, a Clinton spokesperson, released this statement: “Senator Clinton continues to work with her colleagues on the HELP Committee to develop a bipartisan long-term solution for the health needs faced by responders, workers, volunteers, residents, students and others who were affected by the World Trade Center attacks.” 

 The Democratic presidential nominee’s decision to support the bill, coincidental or not, does appear to have been made around the time he spoke with Clinton. Zeff declined to comment on Obama’s position until the day after the two Senators spoke.

The Express contacted the campaign after learning that Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, the Republican vice presidential nominee, expressed support for workers, volunteers and residents suffering from 9/11 when she visited the Tribute WTC Visitor Center two weeks ago. 

She did not say she was supporting the House bill, and a McCain-Palin spokesperson said last month that Sen. John McCain would wait until a Senate bill is introduced before he considered whether or not to support it.

Two advocates of the House bill, both strong supporters of Clinton’s presidential campaign, said they were glad to get Obama’s support.

Catherine McVay Hughes, a Lower Manhattan resident who has worked with Clinton’s office on 9/11 health concerns, said: “I would have been surprised if Sen. Obama did not support the bill but it’s terrific that he’s formally committed to supporting it at this particular time.”  

“The news that Senator Obama supports our 9/11 health bill is very welcome,” U.S Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a bill sponsor, said in a statement. “This isn’t a partisan issue, but a matter of providing much-needed health care and compensation for our first responders and community members who have suffered because of 9/11.  I hope Senator McCain will announce his support for the bill as well.”