Congress on Wednesday passed a bill that will pay for the health care treatment of first responders to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks after Democrats and Republicans reached a bipartisan agreement. The political deal lowered the total cost of the bill to $4.2 billion -- down about $2 billion from an earlier version. Once signed into law by President Barack Obama, the measure will authorize a health benefits program for 9/11 first responders for the next five years while simultaneously placing several restrictions on hos the money is dispersed.
Despite a number of members of Congress already having left Washington for the winter recess period, the House of Representatives still had enough lawmakers for a quorum and passed the bill 206-60. New York Democratic Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Chuck Schumer called the deal a "Christmas Miracle."
The battle to reach a compromise sharply divided federal legislators for months as a number of Republicans -- led by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla. -- were accused by Democratic leaders of "running out the clock" and denying benefits to "9/11 heroes."
On Tuesday, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie defended Republicans' initial opposition of the health care proposal. "I don’t think my party is opposed to this bill," Christie said. "This bill should be done, but it should be done in a way that is fiscally responsible."
But Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., a vocal advocate for the bill, criticized Christie’s comments, calling them "shameful."
"It is beyond shameful that Gov. Christie is dismissing the 9/11 health bill as fiscally irresponsible," Lautenberg said in a statement. "The truth is that the bill will not add one penny to the deficit."
Coburn released a statement Wednesday afternoon saying he was "pleased" with the proposed changes.
"Every American recognizes the heroism of the 9/11 first responders, but it is not compassionate to help one group while robbing future generations of opportunity. I'm pleased this agreement strikes a fair balance and improves the bill the majority attempted to rush through at the last minute," the senator said.
According to Fox News, a number of paramedics, firefighters and police officers who responded to the terror attacks were in attendance on Capitol Hill for the House debate Wednesday afternoon -- many wearing tee-shirts that said, "We were there."