The Obama administration stunned New York’s delegation yesterday, dropping the bombshell news that it does not support funding the 9/11 health bill.
The state’s two senators and 14 House members met with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius just hours before President Obama implored in his speech to the nation for Congress to come together and deliver a government that delivers on its promises to the American people.
So the legislators were floored to learn the Democratic administration does not want to deliver for the tens of thousands of people who sacrificed after 9/11, and the untold numbers now getting sick.
“I was stunned — and very disappointed,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who like most of the other legislators had expected more of a discussion on how to more forward.
“To say the least, I was flabbergasted,” said Staten Island Rep. Mike McMahon.
The 9/11 bill would spend about $11 billion over 30 years to care for the growing numbers of people getting sick from their service at Ground Zero, and to compensate families for their losses.
The legislators were shocked the idea was falling lower on the administration priority list than other parts of the war on terror and financial bailouts.
“She made it clear that the administration does not support any kind of funding mechanism that goes into the bill,” said Bronx Rep. Eliot Engel.
“I think it’s fiscal restraint… but you know what? They find money for everything else, they need to find money for this,” Engel said. “We were attacked because we’re a symbol of our country.”
McMahon was furious that caring for the heroes of Sept. 11 would take a back seat to anything but military funding.
“I thought there was a complete lack of understanding of the issue by the secretary and quite frankly, I did not expect that lack of compassion and failure to understand the urgency of the issue.”
Victims and advocates of 9/11 families are similarly stunned.
Lorie Van Auken, whose husband died on 9/11 and who supports the White House in its push to try the terrorists in New York, was crestfallen at the news.
“I thought that these people would be taken care of. I would have expected better from this administration,” Van Auken said, adding that she thought it sends the wrong message to all of America’s would-be heroes that the government won’t be there for them.
“These people put their lives on the line to help people who live here and who were in danger, and now the government doesn’t want to support them,” Van Auken said. “What happens in the future when something else happens? Are people going to say, ‘No, sorry, I’m not going to help?’”
The legislators did hold out hope, though. McMahon and others said they would appeal to the President to consider adding 9/11 money to the list of mandatory items, rather than discretionary measures subject to the White House planned budget freeze.
Health and Human Servicices officials and the White House did not have an immediate response.