No one would mistake Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas for a bleeding heart. He’s a tight-fisted conservative — yet he is co-sponsoring a bill backing medical care and financial support for sickened Ground Zero rescue and recovery workers.
Cotton’s endorsement of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act sets an example for his fellow Republicans to follow in meeting a national obligiation to people who rallied for America after the terror attack, and paid horrendous prices for their service.
Through the George W. Bush administration and into the presidency of Barack Obama, GOP representatives and senators resisted appropriating federal money to help the responders.
Finally, in 2010, as the Democrats were ceding control of Congress to the Republicans, Dems reached a compromise, cutting a planned 10-year, $7.4 billion program to five years and $4.2 billion. The five years are up at the end of 2016.
Without reauthorization, thousands will lose health care that is specially tailored to the specific illnesses, including cancers, caused by breathing the toxic air that hung over Ground Zero.
Cotton is a Harvard-trained lawyer who joined the Army after 9/11, fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan with the 101st Airborne. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand enlisted him to join fellow GOP senators Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mark Kirk of Illinois and Susan Collins of Maine as a co-sponsor.
While sickened Trade Center responders came from across the country, most are concentrated in the New York metro area. That makes the Arkansan’s support all them more notable and puts to shame Republican New Jersey Rep. Scott Garrett.
The bill is named after Detective James Zadroga, who contracted fatal lung disease after working at Ground Zero for weeks.
Although Zadroga lived in Bergen County, near Garrett’s district, Garrett is, unconscionably, the only one of New Jersey’s six GOP congressmen who hasn’t backed the legislation.
House Speaker John Boehner opposed the Zadroga law in 2010, and remains cold to it. Tuesday, he will swear in Dan Donovan, a Republican leaving the Staten Island DA’s office to fill a seat representing the borough and some of Brooklyn.
Donovan says cosponsoring the Zadroga bill will be his first act in the House. He must lobby Boehner as soon as the speaker finishes administering the oath of office.