Senate Republicans blocked the long-awaited 9/11 health care and compensation bill, making good on a pledge to reject all legislation until the Bush-era tax cuts are passed.
At a press conference after the bill's defeat, Sen. Charles Schumer (NY-D) framed the issue as a question of patriotism. He said that every other time in history, America has stood by those who serve in war.
"But today, the Senate made an exception for that, to the firefighters, policemen, construction workers and others who rushed to danger, no questions asked, to try and find those who might be alive or to try and find the remains of those who had been killed."
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (NY-D) said Thursday's move put politics above people. "This is one of those cynical votes in Washington, that comes down to the very fact that people were too concerned about tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires to do what's right."
Sen. Frank Lautenberg (NJ-D) also chided Republicans for voting against the bill while supporting more tax breaks for the wealthy. "The colleagues who killed this legislation said we couldn't afford it," Lautenberg said. "I wonder if they would recommend that we close some of the V.A. medical facilities?"
It's not yet clear how soon another vote could take place or if Congress will pass the tax bill under the framework negotiated by President Obama and Senate Republicans earlier this week. Many Democrats in both houses of Congress have complained about that bill, which would also extend unemployment insurance.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid promised a vote on the tax package within a few hours.
The 9/11 health bill, known as the Zadroga bill, would continue health care funding for tens of thousands of 9/11 emergency responders, construction laborers and downtown residents, workers and students. It would also potentially compensate people with post-9/11 health conditions and the survivors of those who have died.
Thursday's vote went even worse than expected. The Democrats need 60 votes to open debate — and 60 to close it. Democrats had thought they had 59 votes and a few possible centrist Republican contenders for the 60th vote. But GOP discipline held strong, and the Democrats only hit 58. Newly-elected Illinois Republican Senator Ron Kirk stayed with his party. Kirk, who was elected to President Obama's former seat voted for the House version when he was there in September. He had assured Democrats he would again now that he is in the Senate.
Republicans are concerned the Zadroga bill would create a new entitlement program. The Democrats say they can fund it without raising taxes by closing a loophole on international companies that locate in offshore tax havens to avoid paying taxes. Republicans, however, say that amounts to a new tax on companies that operate here and employ American workers.