By Julie Shapiro
MANHATTAN — The 9/11 health bill has a good chance of passing the U.S. Senate within the next two weeks, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said Tuesday.
"I am very optimistic," Gillibrand told reporters on a conference call Tuesday afternoon. "We’re working very hard on this."
The $7.4 billion bill, which would provide health care and compensation to 9/11 first responders and others made sick after their exposure to the toxic dust at Ground Zero, has already passed the House of Representatives.
Now, the bill needs 60 votes in the Senate to avoid a Republican filibuster. Gillibrand said she has lined up 59 supporters, including all 56 Democrats, two Independents and one Republican.
Gillibrand said she is speaking to about a dozen additional Republicans and is confident she will convince one of them to support the bill.
The biggest sticking point with Republicans is the funding source for the health programs, which would serve thousands of sick rescue and recovery workers around the country. The bill would generate revenue by closing an international tax loophole, and Gillibrand said Republicans are hesitant to approve any tax changes. She said she is trying to find an alternate funding stream.
On Monday, Gillibrand stood alongside U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer and NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly to unveil an exhibit in the Russell Senate Office Building of 29 police badges belonging to officers who participated in the 9/11 recovery effort and have since died. The exhibit also includes drawings of rescue workers at Ground Zero by courtroom artist Aggie Kenny.
Catherine McVay Hughes, who advocated for the D.C. exhibit as vice chairwoman of Manhattan Community Board 1, said she hoped Republican Senators would be moved by the display.
"We really hope that the artwork and the shields, which help illustrate the ultimate sacrifice police officers and responders made, will get across what happened on 9/11," said Hughes, who spoke at Monday’s ceremony.
Formally known as the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, the bill is named for an NYPD detective who died of cancer in 2006 after exposure to toxins at Ground Zero. President Obama has pledged to sign the bill if it passes.