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Wyoming Sen. Enzi criticizes 9/11 benefits bill

Supporters accuse Wyo senator of leading efforts to block benefits for survivors, first responders

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CHEYENNE -- Supporters of federal legislation to offer $7.4 billion in health care treatment and compensation for 9/11 survivors and first responders are targeting U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., for opposing the bill.

Enzi has been a leading critic of the legislation, saying lawmakers need to first find answers to unanswered questions about how current federal funding for 9/11 survivors is being spent.

The legislation, which passed the U.S. House in September, is scheduled to be voted on today in the U.S. Senate.

Under the bill, H.R. 847, the funding would provide medical monitoring and treatment for survivors of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the crash site of Flight 93 in Pennsylvania. First responders who suffered long-term health effects from being exposed to toxins at the attack sites would also be eligible.

U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., who introduced the legislation in the House, said at least 71,000 people from almost every congressional district would be eligible for treatment or compensation under her bill, including between one and 24 Wyomingites.

The funding would come by closing tax loopholes on foreign corporations.

There are 59 senators who support the bill -- but under Senate rules, the legislation needs 60 "aye" votes to pass. And with Republicans taking over the House next year, supporters worry that the bill must pass now or never.

Enzi said in a statement Tuesday that he opposes the legislation because he and other lawmakers haven't received adequate answers to how $475 million in existing 9/11 compensation and relief program money is being spent.

"Senator Enzi thinks it is reasonable to find out what happened to the money that has already been allocated before spending more," said spokeswoman Elly Pickett.

In addition, Enzi said in a statement that he'd like to see how this legislation would be affected by a recent court settlement giving $625 million to 9/11 survivors.

Enzi certainly isn't the only Senate Republican to oppose the legislation: Newly sworn-in U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., has been the only GOP member to come out in favor of the bill. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and at least one anti-tax group have also opposed the bill, saying the taxes imposed on companies would kill American jobs.

But many supporters of the bill -- as well as at least one New York newspaper -- have singled out Enzi, saying he's the most vocal opponent of the bill and claiming he has given out misleading information about why he opposes the bill.

"He's the lead troublemaker," said John Feal, who lost half of his left foot on Sept. 17, 2001, at ground zero as he was working to clean up the site.

Feal, who would be eligible for money under the legislation, led a few dozen World Trade Center first responders to Enzi's Washington, D.C., office on Tuesday to urge the senator to rethink his opposition.

At a previous Senate hearing, Feal said, Enzi initially seemed to be sympathetic to the bill.

"And then he started all with this, 'This bill is no good. I don't like this bill. This bill doesn't work for me,'" Feal said. "But it's not about what works for Senator Enzi -- it's about what works for 9/11 responders that are sick and dying."

Maloney said Enzi's protests about not getting answers to other 9/11 compensation funding are a "gross misrepresentation," as the money was given out in the form of block grants.

"Senator Enzi is asking for data that he knows doesn't exist," she said. "Data on individual claims simply isn't available."

If the bill fails, Feal said he'll take the fight to Enzi.

"I'm going to rent a Winnebago or a bus and come to Wyoming and do a rally in front of his office," he said.

Contact capital bureau reporter Jeremy Pelzer at 307-632-1244 or jeremy.pelzer@trib.com

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