Whatever happened to the Republicans’ reverence for the heroes of 9/11? In political news, the most common headline begins with the words Republicans block. Take this week, for instance. Republicans block a Senate vote that would allow gay soldiers to openly serve their country. Republicans block consideration of a Senate bill that would make it possible for undocumented U.S. immigrants to get green cards by attending college or serving in the military. Of course, this behavior was to be expected; Senate Republicans don’t knock themselves out to help gays and immigrants.What’s astonishing, however, is that they won’t even stand up for the rescue workers and citizen volunteers who got seriously sick from toxic fumes, smoke, and dust during the protracted cleanup at Ground Zero.
I remember when George W. Bush mounted the rubble, threw his arm around a fireman, and declared, “America today is on bended knee…for the workers who work here.” Well, that was then. And this is now, as summed up in the headlines today: Republicans block legislation to provide medical care for tens of thousands of sickened 9/11 workers and volunteers. Actually, the Senate GOP move was even more sickening than that. The Republicans, as always fully exploiting their minority rights, wouldn’t even let the bill come up for a vote. (Fifty seven senators wanted to vote on the 9/11 aid bill, while 42 did not. Only in the dysfunctional U.S. Senate does a 57-42 thumbs-up vote translate into a thumbs-down verdict.)Apparently, for Republicans, 9/11 fully served its political purpose back when they used it to bludgeon the Democrats during the ’02 midterms and the ’04 election; today, the Republicans have apparently decided that 9/11 is so nine years ago, that it’s a budget-buster to help the ailing cops and firefighters and construction workers who have exhausted all other avenues, including temporary NYC health assistance.One would think that such a medical aid program would be a no-brainer. After all, it’s the decent thing to do. It’s the patriotic thing to do. It’s endorsed by (among others) the International Association of Firefighters, the National Association of Police Organizations, and the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association. And the medical costs – $7.4 billion spread over 10 years – would be paid for. The bill, which passed the House three months ago, would close a loophole in the tax code. Foreign multinational corporations would be barred from using off-shore tax havens to avoid taxes on their U.S. income.I know you’re shocked, shocked that Republicans find that particular revenue source to be unacceptable. You certainly don’t need me to explain why. Basically, in their view, federal 9/11 medical aid is a terrible idea because there’s no good way to pay for it. And back in September, House Republicans dissed the whole program as a “slush fund.” So, let us briefly sum up the Republican mentality. Two ways to look at it:1. Federal medical aid for 60,000 affected Ground Zero rubble workers is a No because it would deepen the budget deficit….but an extension of Bush tax cuts for the rich is a Yes even though it’s not paid for and will deepen the budget deficit. 2. Helping the sick 9/11 workers, over the next 10 years, would cost $7.4 billion. The GOP thinks that’s too much red ink on the federal ledger. Extending tax cuts for the rich over the next 10 years would cost $700 billion. The GOP, which wants those cuts to be permanent, are fine with spreading that red ink on the federal ledger.It was hardly a surprise when Senate Republicans spent months dumping on America’s jobless, insisting that it was too costly to extend their federal benefits; we assumed that the Republicans of course cared more about the rich than about the jobless. But the 9/11 rubble workers? Really? I always assumed that they were a synonym for the flag.So what cohort of Americans could possibly be next on the hit list? Tune in for the next exciting episode of Republicans Block.