Did Jon Stewart Turn the Tide on the 911 First Responders Bill?

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In his last show of the year, The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart took Congress and the media to task for not making the Zadroga bill a priority. Named for James Zadroga, a 911 first responder who died in 2006 of respiratory disease, the bill would create a trust fund to cover the health care costs of surviving police, firemen, emergency medical technicians and clean up crews who toiled for months in the wreckage of the World Trade Center. The bill passed the House but has been stalled in the Senate due to GOP concerns that it would, in essence, create a new — albeit relatively tiny — entitlement.

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(Stewart may have taken outrage lessons on the issue from his buddy Rep. Anthony Weiner with whom he’s shared a South Hampton summer sublet.)

In the wake of Stewart’s show, ABC’s Jonathan Karl ran a story on World News and the cable nets seem to have woken up to the bill’s existence. On Sunday, New York Senators Chuck Schumer and Kristen Gillibrand announced that a revised version of the bill, which reduces the cost from $7.4 billion to $6.2 billion – the measure is offset by closing a corporate tax loop hole – had gained at least some GOP support. Indeed, several prominent Republicans have come out in support of the bill with Fox News Sunday’s Chris Wallace calling it a “national shame” that the legislation has yet to be enacted.

On MSNBC’s Morning Joe today, Senator Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Senate Democrat, said he thinks the bill will pass.

We’ve had 22 hearings, gone through all sorts of accommodations. This is the right thing to do. And I can tell you, the Republicans, when they’re off camera understand that it’s the right thing to do. I hope they’ll give us a chance to do it before Christmas for these deserving people.

It remains unclear if there’s enough time left in the calendar to finish work on the measure. The Senate is currently debating the START treaty with a key vote expected on that bill tomorrow morning. They also still have to pass a short term continuing resolution to fund the federal government through March (though negotiators seem to have come to an agreement on that in recent days with the Administration and congressional Democrat giving up hope on an omnibus, or even a year-long CR, in exchange for continued Pell Grants over the next three months and other GOP concessions). Christmas is rapidly approaching and it is unusual for the Senate to work up, let alone though, the Holiday.

The bill failed a GOP filibuster in the Senate 57-42 last week but one of those votes was Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who switched his vote so he might bring the measure back up again. Another of those Nays was newly sworn-in Illinois Republican Mark Kirk, who had voted for the bill in the past in the House. Kirk voted no because of a letter signed by all 42 Senate Republicans pledging to filibuster all bills until the Bush tax cuts were renewed and the government is funded through the next few months. Both of those bills should be done by the next 911 vote. Kirk’s office said if that’s the case, he will vote for it, which brings Dems to 59 votes, tantalizingly close to the 60 needed to break a filibuster. Other GOP targets include Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Maine’s Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, who said last week she supports the bill “on the merits” and would vote for it if the cost is offset.

If the Zadroga bill does not pass now, it is unlikely to make it through a GOP-controlled House and an expanded Republican minority in the Senate next year. Despite the fact that the bill’s been bouncing around for the last two years, Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona, the No. 2 Senate Republican, over the weekend called for more time to look at the bill. One GOP leadership aide told me today that the bill’s odds were still dim, and even a Democratic leadership aide conceded that “time is the only thing that could stop it, it seems.” As the sick and dying first responders know all too well, time is of the essence.

Updated 4:50 pm