When the World Trade towers fell on this day 11 years ago, first responders were the ones who ran toward the wreckage rather than away. Nearly 50,000 policemen, firefighters, construction workers and civilians climbed over and dug through the debris searching for bodies for months on end - breathing in vaporized particles that contained glass, asbestos, mercury, fiberglass, plastic and concrete.
It didn't take long before the toll of insufficient respirators and work clothes began to surface. Breathing issues and eventually cancer were too common among those working at the WTC site. The EPA was found to have deliberately downplayed the dangers of breathing in the toxic particles found in the air around the site.
Today over 40,000 responders and survivors are being monitored for illnesses associated with the attack and 20,000 are being treated. Just this week 58 cancers were added to the list of illnesses covered by the Zadroga Act named for New York policeman Jim Zadroga who died in 2006 as a result of respiratory illnesses from working on rescue and recovery at Ground Zero.
The Zadroga Act was introduced in 2009 and was designed to provide health care and medical monitoring for the thousands who had or would become sick - many who did not have health care coverage.
The Zadroga Act was voted on three times in Congress before it eventually passed - House Republicans were clear in their opposition to the bill. When public outcry reached a full pitch over GOP blockage of the bill - it was passed with 206 Democrats in favor, 59 Republicans opposed and 89 Republicans choosing not to cast a vote at all rather than look like assholes for voting against it.
Congressman Paul Ryan voted against the Zadroga Act on July 29, 2010 and "nay" again on September 29, 2010. Ryan decided not to cast a vote at all on December 22, 2010 when the bill finally passed the House.
It would be simple to presume that abstaining from voting against the Zadroga bill might indicate some moderation on Ryan's part toward real assistance for those who were quite literally still giving their lives nearly a decade after the 9/11 tragedy.
He didn't have a change of heart.
Ryan took to the House floor after the vote to say:
"Madam Speaker, I was absent for legislative business and missed rollcall vote 663 on December 21, 2010, and rollcall vote 664 on December 22, 2010. Had I been present, I would have voted... "no'' on rollcall vote 664 (H.R. 847)."
The vote I wish to discuss is the bill H.R. 847, the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act. Without a doubt, Republicans and Democrats can agree that both the victims of the attacks on September 11, 2001, and the first responders who bravely served following the attacks deserve to be fairly treated and compensated. However, this bill would create a new health care entitlement, the World Trade Center Health Program, while also extending eligibility for compensation under the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund of 2001. As a result, had I been present, I would have voted against passage of the bill."What particularly bothered Ryan was that the Zadroga Act was paid for in part by an excise tax of 2% on foreign manufacturers. Protecting the profit of foreign corporations was more important to Ryan than paying for health care of 9/11 first responders.
So on this day when politicians offer platitudes of prayers and remembrance on the anniversary of 9/11 it is useful to remember which of those politicians have also offered actual help for the victims and families of 9/11.
Paul Ryan's votes speak much louder than his prayers today.