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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

New 9/11 First Responders’ Bill a Great Improvement Over the Previous Version, Republicans Received Major Concessions /Update: House Passes Bill

It seems that Republicans and Democrats have come to an agreement and have passed a new 9/11 responders bill unanimously that will take care of those that are sick as a result of dust inhaled resulting from the WTC collapse. Republicans, who were never against the main premise of the bill, just were unsure of a how much and how the money should be spent, gained some major concessions, which will help ensure that the money isn’t spent foolishly and will get to those who really need it:

The agreement includes the following changes:

• Reduction in Costs. This agreement saved taxpayers $6.2 billion from the substitute amendment and $7.5 billion from the House-passed bill. In the deal, costs are reduced to $4.2 billion in the 10 year window and eliminated outside the 10-year window.

• Permanently Close the Victims Compensation Fund (VCF) after 5 years. The original bill kept the VCF open through 2031, making it extremely susceptible to waste, fraud and abuse and incurring significant long-term costs. The fund is now open only through 2016 and has language to expressly say that it is permanently closed at after 5 years.

• Limitations on Attorneys Fees. Places a hard cap for attorneys' fees at 10 percent of the total award and allows the Special Master to reduce attorneys fees he believes are excessive

• Prevents Reinstatement of Civil Claims. Prevent claimants who are rejected from the VCF from then pursuing a civil lawsuit. This is consistent with the earlier VCF policy.

• Limitation on Infrastructure Costs. Explicitly excludes construction and capital projects from health care spending in the bill.

• Commitment to ensure eligible individuals cannot "double-dip" on benefits. The Senators all agreed to get in writing from the Special Master that he will include workers compensation benefits in collateral sources of benefits that he must offset from potential compensation awards.

• More Accountability. Require claims-level data reporting to provide accountability and opportunity for oversight, as well as GAO reports to determine less expensive mechanisms to provide nationwide care, pharmaceutical access, and health information technology promotion.

Republicans were never against taking care of these heroes, especially since they are sick because of what happened, when they were in the line of duty. They just wanted to make sure that there wasn’t any money wasted, there would be oversight over the dispensing of funds, and that the people that are supposed to be getting the money are actually getting it. That was the problem with the previous version of the bill that was put forward by the Democrats. Too much money would’ve been wasted and potentially millions more could’ve been wasted through unintended consequences, like rampant fraud. All of this would have been done with very little to no oversight. This bill is much different and has closed many have these concerns.

Senator Coburn spearheaded this effort to make sure that this was done the right way and wasn’t just thrown together haphazardly just to get it pushed through. This compromise is the culmination of his efforts, and he seems pleased with the results.

The bill will now move back to the House, and I fully expect it to pass easily there and move to the White House for Obama’s signature.

Update: House passes the bill.

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