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9/11 Health Bill Spurs Partisan Finger-Pointing

A bill that would pay billions of dollars to people exposed to toxic dust from the World Trade Center will fall short in a House vote, one of its key supporters said Wednesday.

The House is expected Thursday to take up a measure to provide free health care and compensation payments to 9/11 rescue and recovery workers who fell ill after working in the trade center ruins.

U.S. Rep. Peter King, a Long Island Republican, predicted that the bill would fail, and accused Democrats of perpetrating a "cruel hoax."

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Democratic leaders opted to consider the bill under a procedure that requires a two-thirds vote for approval rather than a simple majority. Such a move blocks potential GOP amendments to the measure.

Meanwhile, Politico reports that House Republican leadership is advising its members to vote against the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act. According to Republicans, the measure would kill jobs, create a "new entitlement" and waste taxpayer dollars.

The measure would reopen the Victims Compensation Fund until 2031. Politico reports that Republicans are calling the extension "well beyond what is needed to take care of latent claims," according to a GOP policy statement.

The bill, according to Republicans, "creates a massive new entitlement program, exposes taxpayers to increased litigation, and is 'paid for' with tax increases and potential job losses."

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King said Democrats are worried about casting votes as the fall elections near on controversial amendments, possibly including one that could ban the bill from covering illegal immigrants who were sickened by World Trade dust.

"They're afraid of taking a tough vote and as a result of that, they're willing to let cops and firefighters die," King, who supports the bill, said in a telephone interview with AP. "They want to protect their members from having to take a tough vote."

King said if Democrats brought it to the floor as a regular bill, it would pass with majority support.

The cost has been estimated at $7.4 billion over 10 years.

The legislation is named for James Zadroga, a police detective who died at age 34.

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His case is indicative of some of the uncertainties surrounding the proposal, which would create massive new spending on 9/11-related illnesses that are still something of a scientific mystery.

Doctors have linked trade center dust to a variety of health problems, including breathing ailments with symptoms similar to asthma. Thousands of people have been diagnosed with at least mild respiratory problems, or reduced lung function, and a smaller group has suffered from more serious, life-threatening ailments.

Thousands of the police officers, firefighters and construction workers who spent time on the trade center cleanup have also been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Yet, doctors have had a difficult time saying how many of the other health problems being experienced by ground zero workers are actually related to the dust - especially deadly illnesses like cancer.

City medical boards and a coroner in New Jersey initially held that Zadroga had died from a respiratory disease caused by particles from the trade center lodged in his lungs. But New York City's medical examiner later said those particles were the residue of prescription pills that had been improperly ground up and injected.

The debate over whether Zadroga died from a dust-related ailment, or prescription drug abuse, still rages.

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