Washington, D.C. - Speaker Nancy Pelosi spoke on the House floor this afternoon in support of H.R. 847, the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, which provides long-term, comprehensive health care and compensation for thousands of first responders and others exposed to the toxins of Ground Zero following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The bill passed the House by a vote of 268 to 160. Below are the Speaker's remarks.
“I want to salute Congressman Peter King, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, Congressman Jerry Nadler, and the entire bipartisan New York delegation for giving us this opportunity today to do what is right and fair and just.
“Mr. Speaker, in observance of 9/11 earlier this month, we stood on the steps of the Capitol--Democrats and Republicans alike--to honor the memory of those that we lost that day. As we were standing there, I was thinking back to my first visit to Ground Zero.
“When you went there at that time following the tragedy, you knew that when you stepped there, you were walking on sacred ground. There was an incredible silence as the workers feverishly tried to retrieve the remains of those who were lost and just repair the damage that was done to clear the wreckage. No pictures were allowed in recognition that we were on sacred ground. No photographs were allowed, and, of course, silence was generally observed so that those who were working could hear each other as they quietly went about their very, very sad assignments. They, and those who rushed to the scene in real time when it happened, risked their lives and their health to do so. They didn't ask any questions: ‘Is anybody going to take care of me?' They were there to help.
“Again, back to the steps of the Capitol. When we were standing there earlier this month, I am sure Mr. King and Congresswoman Maloney and Congressman Nadler and others recall that many signs went up in the crowd that was gathered there that said ‘Remember us next week.' That was in anticipation that the bill might come up the following week.
“Well, it is another week later, and we are here today to say that we do remember you this week. We remember what you did at the time. And it wasn't only your sacrifice, it is the sacrifice of your families, of your health, and the impact that that has on your family. You were community to New York, so the impact that it has on the community and also the impact on our conscience to do what is right by those who we call heroes and want to treat as such.
“Today, we remember all the heroes of 9/11. We praise the strength of thousands of firefighters, rescue workers, first responders and medical personnel who turned tragedy into inspiration and gave of themselves to help the city and our nation rebuild. We promised to help those who spent days, weeks, and months doing the hard work our government and the American people expected them to do in the recovery effort. They went above and beyond in the recovery effort. They went above and beyond the call of duty. We all know that. We all looked in frustration to think, ‘if only we could help.' But they were there. It was emotional, but it was professional. And we pledged to do everything in our power to ensure that their health and well-being would be taken care of. We did not want them to be unsung heroes. We want them to be recognized heroes.
“Today, we are here to honor that pledge. It is long overdue. But nonetheless, we are here to do right by these workers and vote for the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act.
“Words are, of course, inadequate to recognize and honor the bravery and courage of these brave Americans. But by this act of Congress, more than words, but by this act of Congress, we can truly express our gratitude to the extraordinary men and women who took extraordinary action at that time.
“Named for Officer James Zadroga - a hero of the New York Police Department who died from respiratory disease contracted during the Ground Zero recovery effort - this legislation will: help those who jeopardized their health to rescue others secure necessary medical treatment, especially for the unique exposures suffered at Ground Zero, which are real; ensure survivors and victims' families can obtain compensation for their losses through a reopened 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund.
“It is fully paid-for. The legislation does not increase the deficit. It is the least we can do for those who answered the call of duty and continue to suffer the ill health effects of their service.
“On September 11, all Americans were shocked by horrifying images of terror and destruction. Yet, in the aftermath of that dark day, we responded in the best possible way, the best way Americans can: with resolve; with courage; with unity; and with hope for a better future.
“So many of us couldn't be at the scene ourselves. We all were willing to help. People from all over were trying to send assistance. Those who did though did not do so for recognition or accolades or awards or medals; they did it because their fellow Americans were in need. And in those acts, they became heroes.
“The American people are looking to us to cast a vote that will allow these heroes to live out their lives with health and happiness.
“Again, I want to commend Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, Congressman Jerry Nadler, and Congressman Peter King--thank you, Peter--for their efforts to bring this bipartisan bill to the floor. We are all inspired by the firefighters and first responders who have advocated so hard and so long on behalf of their fellow heroes. And I am so pleased that so many of them are with us today to help us make this historic decision.
“We must now join together to provide this critical assistance. We must vote ‘aye' on the Health and Compensation Act. We must do so in a strong bipartisan manner. I thank our colleagues for the personal involvement that they have taken in this. At times, it has been emotional. There is a lot of passion in this issue, but this bill is a very dispassionate response to the needs of our heroes. Let's get a great big vote for it today.”