House Speaker John Boehner pressed to extend bill giving healthcare to 9/11 crew

Dan Friedman New York Daily News

WASHINGTON — House Speaker John Boehner’s recent visit to Ground Zero has riled 9/11 first responders who want the Ohio Republican’s help hanging on to expiring health benefits.

In New York for a fundraising event, Boehner visited the National September 11 Memorial & Museum Ground Zero on April 26.

“Your heart breaks for the families,” he said in an online post last week on the visit.

But Boehner did not mention the growing number of volunteers, cops and firefighters with health issues resulting working at the site after the attack.

The Speaker remains publicly opposed to the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, which helps those first responders get healthcare. Due to a compromise to ease passage in 2011, the act will start to expire this year if Congress does not extend it.

Through the bill, about 33,000 people, and counting, receive treatment for a least one health issue, ranging from asthma to terminal cancer, linked to exposure to toxins around Ground Zero.

Boehner voted against the bill in 2010. He has not changed his view, spokesman Michael Steel said last week.

Though a bipartisan group of lawmakers, including all of New York’s delegation, is pushing extension of the bill, the issue is not on Boehner’s radar. Steel said he’s not aware of any recent discussion of involving Boehner.

“The Speaker made a personal visit to the memorial to pay tribute to our fallen heroes,” Steel said.

That doesn’t cut it for Zadroga supporters.

“I don’t see how Speaker Boehner could go see the devastation, destruction and loss of life that occurred and still not support the reauthorization of the bill,” said Mario Cilento, president of the New York State AFL-CIO, which backs legislation from New York delegation members to extend the Zadroga Act.

“It’s not just duplicitous,” Cilento said. “It’s outrageous.”

Supporters lobbying for extending the Zadroga Act face a tricky task. Few lawmakers openly oppose the measure, but about two-thirds of current House Republicans were elected after the bill passed. Skeptical of anything proposed by Democrats, they need convincing.

The bill needs Boehner’s backing. The Speaker’s visit also offers groups lobbying for the bill a chance to remind potential opponents of the emotions around the issue.

By visiting Ground Zero without supporting an extension, Boehner “turned his back on all who risked their lives to save others,” Cilento said. “It’s reprehensible.”

“Speaker Boehner is a leader, and it’s our hope that he leads and he reaches across the aisle and we get this done, because people across America are sick and dying,” said

Jake Lemonda, president of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association, which represents FDNY officers.

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