Sen. Kirk Filibusters 9/11 Health Care Bill After Supporting It In The House
When the House passed the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act in September, Mark Kirk (R-IL) was one of just seventeen Republicans who voted to provide "medical treatment to rescue workers and residents of New York City who suffered illnesses from breathing in toxic fumes, dust and smoke at ground zero."
Kirk, who replaced Sen. Roland Burris (D-IL) in the Senate last month, reportedly pledged that he would support the first responders' health care bill in the upper chamber. Today, however, he joined a Republican filibuster of the legislation, defeating what some are calling "the last real opportunity" to pass it.
Republican senators blocked Democratic legislation on Thursday that sought to provide medical care to rescue workers and residents of New York City who became ill as a result of breathing in toxic fumes, dust and smoke from ground zero.
The 9/11 health bill, a version of which was approved by the House of Representatives in September, is among a handful of initiatives that Senate Democrats had been hoping to approve this year before the close of the 111th Congress. Supporters believe this is their last real opportunity to have the bill passed.
While other Republicans balked at the bill's $7.4 billion price tag, Kirk was likely motivated by political gamesmanship. Like every member of the Senate GOP, Kirk signed a letter last week promising to block all legislation until the Senate approves an extension of the Bush tax cuts, including those for top earners. In effect, Kirk is refusing to provide $7.4 billion in aid to 9/11 rescue workers until the wealthiest two percent of Americans receive $120 billion in tax breaks.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who supported Kirk's campaign for the Senate, blasted Republicans for their "wrongheaded" partisan obstruction. "The attacks of 9/11 were attacks on America," said Bloomberg, "and we have a collective responsibility to care for the heroes — from all 50 states — who answered the call of duty, saved lives, and helped our nation recover."
Kirk also voted today against repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" — an action supported by 67 percent of Americans, as well as top military officials — and announced his opposition to the DREAM Act. Just weeks into his term, it's already painfully obvious that Kirk's campaign pledge to work "across party lines" and represent "the exact political center" was a sham.
UPDATE: At a news conference last month, Rep. Peter King (R-NY) declared that Kirk would "definitely" vote for the first responders' bill:
"Mark, I understand, is being sworn in December 1st, on or about. He has told me he will definitely vote for the bill, no if's, and's, or but's. He's voting for the bill."