But as important as intentions are, the details still matter. There are serious concerns about the existing programs to help 9/11 first responders, and it is not clear that this bill fixes current problems.
Congress has funded numerous programs to provide care and compensation to 9/11 victims, spending several billion dollars on extraordinary and unprecedented efforts. Congress will continue to support these individuals. However, current program administrators have failed to account for much of the previously allocated money.
Before we create a new program, we need the basic facts about what worked and what did not work over the past nine years.
I would like to work with the sponsors of this legislation to try to resolve these concerns. Prior to this week's vote, the Senate Republican Policy Committeesent out an explanation of the contents of the bill. The memo stated Congress' strong support for the 9/11 heroes and also cited concerns about waste, fraud and abuse in the existing programs. The committee's summary contained contributions from the Republican staff of the committees on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP), Judiciary and Finance. Contrary to New York Daily News reports, I did not circulate a letter to discourage my colleagues from supporting this bill.
I appreciate the motivations of the bill sponsors, but rushing a flawed bill through Congress at the end of this lame duck session is not the right way to address these important issues. As a result, we are left in the situation where serious concerns have been raised and we have no real way to address them.
In order to properly address concerns with the bill, the committees of jurisdiction in the House and Senate must be allowed to do their work. The Senate Finance, Judiciary and HELP committees have not convened a single committee vote to consider this legislation. This is not a new issue. This bill has been around for several years. If the majority party really wanted to get this bill signed into law, permitting committee debate, amendments and votes would be the single best and most constructive action they could take.
The proponents of this bill say it terminates the current programs and replaces them with one program run by a single administrator. In reality, the new program administrator would still be NIOSH, the same agency that has inadequately administered the program. Without the basic facts about the programs NIOSH administered for the past eight years, it is hard to design an effective program for the future.
The American people need to know that money is being used effectively because frankly, the nation can't afford careless spending, no matter how well-intentioned. Our country is in the midst of trying to head off a short-term economic crisis and long-term deficit crisis that could deeply hurt us all. We need money to help 9/11 responders. We need money to help the men and women who are returning from the front lines of two wars. Victims of natural disasters, the poor and unemployed all warrant our attention. We owe it to all of them to use what money we have in the best way we can. In order to do that, legislators must take the time to consider, amend and vote on bills in the committees of jurisdiction.
I realize that my opposition to this bill, and how it is being considered, is not a popular position in New York. I understand and appreciate the frustration of the 9/11 responders, who want to see a permanent program put in place to address their needs. But it is reasonable for senators to ask questions, get answers and amend legislation before it's rushed to the Senate floor during the final moments of a Congress.