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Working In These Times

Monday, Aug 2, 2010, 10:54 am

Why Anthony Weiner Was Livid About the 9/11 Compensation Act

BY Lindsay Beyerstein

The James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act died in the House last Thursday, after Democrats failed to achieve the two-thirds majority they needed to pass the bill without Republican poison pill amendments. The bill would have set aside $7.4 billion to provide ongoing healthcare for first responders, recovery workers, and cleanup workers who responded to the aftermath of the World Trade Center attacks.

The Democrats were afraid that the Republicans would propose a frivolous amendment to pay for the program out of money set aside for healthcare reform, instead of through a proposed new tax on foreign firms operating in the United States. The Republicans wanted a zero-sum game where more money for 9/11 workers meant less for someone else. So, the Democrats sought a two-thirds majority in the House to block the Republicans' procedural gambit.

On the night of the vote, Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) made headlines for his heated denunciation of congressional Republicans. Weiner tore into the GOP caucus for paying lipservice to helping 9/11 workers while using procedural tricks to stall the legislation. The impassioned speech made national news, but the Democrats still didn't get their majority.

The Republican Party held its 2004 national convention in New York to capitalize on 9/11, but in the end the GOP caucus cared more about protecting overseas firms from taxes than about taking care of rescue workers.

A cyncial person might wonder if forces hostile to the bill were already laying political cover for its defeat in the days before the vote. You have to question the timing of the "expose" and subsequent investigation of the disability pension of a 9/11 firefighter who went on to have a career as a mixed martial artist (MMA).

On June 26, the Post broke the news. Republican Mayor Mike Bloomberg cited the Post's report on June 29 as evidence of a compensation system run amuck. On August 1st, the Post reported that Bloomberg had announced an investigation into Giuffrida's pension.

Giuffrida, 42, was awarded a $74,624/year disability pension for asthma and PTSD in 2003 after 12 years of service. He spent 30 days, including a continuous 30-hour stint, working on "the pile" at Ground Zero after the attacks of 2001.

The Post implies that Giuffrida's case is a self-evidently egregious. The headline blared "He's Beating the System." The case hasn't been investigated yet, but the Post has no compunctions about pre=emptively smearing this guy.

If this guy can do mixed martial arts, why can't he fight fires?

The doctors at the NYFD found that Giuffrida has asthma, which can be exacerbated by smoke and toxins. Just because he's athletic doesn't mean he's fit to be a firefighter.

There are plenty of elite athletes with asthma. So many, in fact, that the International Olympic Committee issued special guidelines for managing their condition in international competition. When they're not having an attack, they can perform just fine. If an athlete starts wheezing, she can sit out a match and nobody's going to die.

Firefighting places very specialized demands on the body. Firefighters have to be confident that they can perform under extreme stress and suboptimal breathing conditions--conditions that exacerbate asthma. Lives hang in the balance. Ask yourself, if you were fighting a five-alarm blaze, would you worry if the firefighter next to you had asthma triggered by smoke? Imagine trying to use a puffer in full turnout gear. Expect more stories about so-called 9/11 goldbrickers as Republicans try to explain to the general public why they couldn't stop grandstanding long enough to help the heroes of 9/11.

Lindsay Beyerstein is an award-winning investigative journalist and In These Times staff writer who writes the blog Duly Noted. Her stories have appeared in Newsweek, Salon, Slate, The Nation, Ms. Magazine, and other publications. Her photographs have been published in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times' City Room. She also blogs at The Hillman Blog (http://www.hillmanfoundation.org/hillmanblog), a publication of the Sidney Hillman Foundation, a non-profit that honors journalism in the public interest.

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