First Responders Try, Fail to Meet with Coburn About 9/11 Health Bill

Tom Coburn
Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn

Updated: 2:10PM ET

A group of approximately 50 9/11 first responders was turned away from Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn's office on Tuesday night, the liberal blog ThinkProgress reports, after making a last-ditch effort to personally lobby the senator on behalf of a health care bill for 9/11 first responders.

The group, led by first responder John Feal, traveled to Coburn's office from New York and waited outside of his office for approximately 20 minutes before being denied a meeting and asked to leave, according to ThinkProgress .

A video shows the responders waiting quietly and holding up signs outside of Coburn's office. On the way out, after having been asked to leave, the group breaks into a chorus of "God Bless America" while exiting the Russell Senate office building.

Coburn this week said he would block the bill, entitled the Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, which would provide health care benefits for Americans who became ill as a result of their work on the scene of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York City.

Coburn has argued that the bill was "forced through Congress at the end of the year on a basis to solve a problem that we didn't have time to solve and we didn't get done." He also argued that the bill unnecessarily created a large entitlement fund and would increase taxes.

.However, a spokesperson for Coburn said Tuesday night that the senator was still working to reach a deal with his colleagues on the bill. A source close to the negotiations tells CBS Newstoday that Democrats and Republicans have brokered a deal to pass the bill.

Feal, head of the responders, told Think Progress that the group's dismissal from Coburn's office last night was "hard to swallow" and that he believed Coburn, as a physician, had a particular obligation to hear the complaints of the sick.

"Mr. Coburn should be ashamed of himself," Feal said. "Because I think before he was a senator he was a doctor and he took an oath to help people that are sick. He's going against his oath as a doctor. He can vote any way he wants as a senator, but as a doctor, he just embarrassed the medical profession."

A number of GOP senators have come under fire recently for their failure to support the legislation, and a rising number of other conservative politicians - including former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee - have added their voices to the chorus of criticism.

The Senate is expected to vote on cloture of the bill later this afternoon.

Watch video of the incident below:



Update: In a statement acquired by CBS News, Coburn announced on Wednesday that he will now support the Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, thanks to an agreement that will reduce the bill's costs, permanently close the Victims Compensation Fund, and increase accountability and opportunity for oversight in the administration of the benefits.

"I'm pleased the sponsors of this bill agreed to lower costs dramatically, offset the bill, sunset key provisions and take steps to prevent fraud. Every American recognizes the heroism of the 9/11 first responders, but it is not compassionate to help one group while robbing future generations of opportunity. I'm pleased this agreement strikes a fair balance and improves the bill the majority attempted to rush through at the last minute," Coburn said, in the statement. 

Coburn's communications director, John Hart, told CBS News that the senator was unable to send a representative to speak with the first responders on Tuesday because the office was working on negotiating the above deal.


Lucy Madison
Lucy Madison is a political reporter for CBSNews.com. You can read more of her posts here. Follow Hotsheet on Facebook and Twitter.

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