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Posted at 01:01 PM ET, 12/22/2010

9/11 bill passes Senate, House in final hours of lame-duck session

Updated: 5:40 p.m.

After a years-long battle and a bout of last-minute opposition by Senate Republicans, the House on Wednesday passed a bill that would provide $4.2 billion in compensation and long-term health-care benefits for first responders who became ill from working at Ground Zero in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, sending the measure on to President Obama for his signature.

The bill passed Wednesday evening by a vote of 206 to 60 after House leaders had held open the vote for more than an hour, presumably for members who were still hustling to make their way over to the Capitol on the final day of the 111th Congress' lame-duck session.

Missing Wednesday's vote were nearly 170 House members, 100 more than had been missing in action for the previous day's votes. Thirty Republicans had joined all but one Democrat, Mississippi's Gene Taylor, in supporting the measure.

The House vote came hours after the Senate passed the bill by unanimous voice vote.

New York Reps. Jerrold Nadler (D), Carolyn Maloney (D) and Peter King (R), who sponsored the House version of the bill, were seen exiting the Senate after the bill passed the upper chamber earlier Wednesday. The trio paused to take a photo together just outside of the Senate chamber, then headed toward the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) ahead of the House vote.

"We are thrilled. It's been seven years since Jerry and I introduced the first bill. We've had 22 hearings. It's been a labor of purpose, a labor of love," Maloney said. "All I wanted for Christmas was the passage of this bill, and that's what I got."

"It's been nine years since the heroes rushed in to try to save people's lives. Today, the United States redeems its honor," Nadler said. "Today the United States shows that we are an honorable nation and we pay our debts."

The bill looked headed toward defeat as recently as this week. But its future brightened Wednesday as Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), who had been threatening to prevent the measure from reaching the Senate floor, reached a deal with Senate Democrats, according to ABC News and The Post's Greg Sargent.

The original Senate version of the bill would have provided $6.2 billion in benefits to responders, but the deal reached by Coburn and Democratic leaders would lower the price tag to $4.2 billion, of which $1.5 billion would go to health benefits and $2.7 billion would go to compensation.

New York Democratic Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, who co-sponsored the Senate version of the bill, held a news conference Wednesday heralding the bipartisan deal.

"The Christmas Miracle we've been looking for has arrived," Schumer and Gillibrand said in a statement. "Over the last 24 hours, our Republican colleagues have negotiated in good-faith to forge a workable final package that will protect the health of the men and women who selflessly answered our nation's call in her hour of greatest need. ... We thank our Republican friends for coming together to fulfill America's moral obligation to the Heroes of 9/11."

In a floor speech Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said he was "delighted" a bipartisan agreement had been reached and praised both the passage of the bill and the efforts of Republicans who worked to amend it, notably Coburn and Sen. Mike Enzi (Wyo.).

"Some have tried to portray this debate as a debate between those who support 9/11 workers and those who don't," McConnell said. "This is a gross distortion of the facts. There was never any doubt about supporting the first responders. It was about doing it right."

Supporters of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010 say that the measure would provide key medical and economic assistance to 9/11 responders over the next decade, and they believe that a vote during the lame-duck session remains the legislation's best hope for getting passed.

Opponents argued that there should have been more debate on the bill; that it should be funded through spending cuts; or that the bill was unnecessary and would be open to abuse.

Wednesday's vote marked the second time this month that the Senate took up the bill; earlier, in a 57-to-42 votewith no GOP support, it fell short of the 60 votes it needed to advance under Senate rules.

The House version of the bill passed in September. The original $6.2 billion price tag for the Senate version was less than the $7.4 billion the House version would have cost; the Senate version also made changes to the revenue-raising measures that would fund the bill.

The measure was named for a police detective who worked at Ground Zero and died in 2006 from lung ailments.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) on Tuesday had asked members to remain in Washington in order to stand by to vote on the measure, but many departed early for their Home districts ahead of the winter break.

By  |  01:01 PM ET, 12/22/2010

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