WASHINGTON, DC—Today, U.S. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) announced they have made alterations to an important health bill for 9-11 first responders—including trimming the bill’s price tag by $1.2 billion—in a move that is expected to clear the way for final passage of the measure before the end of this year.
The senators said that they have received a commitment from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to hold a vote on the bill this week once debate on the New START treaty is ended. They said the changes to the 9-11 bill were likely to win enough Republican support to block a filibuster.
“I believe we now have more than enough votes to pass this legislation. We have been working extremely closely with a number of Republicans and have made a series of changes to the bill. Americans will be watching closely over the next few days and expecting the Senate to do what is right and fulfill our moral obligation to these heroes,” Gillibrand said.
“Since this bill was blocked last week, we have redoubled our efforts to reach out to Republicans so we could finally pass this bill. The clock is winding down, but we believe we are on the verge of an eleventh-hour breakthrough. This has been a long process. It’s been like running a marathon. We’ve had a lot of ups and downs, but now the finish line is in sight. Barring a setback, we believe we are on a path to victory by the end of this week,” Schumer said.
As a result of the settlement reached last month with many of the ailing Ground Zero workers, the overall cost of the bill is now reduced from $7.4 billion to $6.2 billion.
Additionally, in response to concerns raised by Senate Republicans, Gillibrand and Schumer unveiled a new way of paying for the bill. Instead of relying on the House-passed offset that closed foreign tax loopholes, the new Senate bill would impose a 2-percent excise fee on certain foreign companies that receive U.S. government contracts. This raises roughly $4.5 billion over 10 year. To offset the remaining cost of the 9-11 measure, the bill includes two other revenue-raising measures that have passed the Senate either unanimously or on a broad, bipartisan vote.
The James Zadroga 9-11 Health and Compensation Act, which has been a priority of New York’s congressional delegation for years, would provide health care for 9-11 first responders who rushed to Ground Zero in the days after the World Trade Center attack. It failed on a party-line vote earlier this month on account of a Republican filibuster, but Gillibrand and Schumer have vowed all along to continue fighting.
If Gillibrand and Schumer succeed in pushing the modified legislation through the Senate this week, the House of Representative would need to pass the measure again with the new offsets. Gillibrand and Schumer said Sunday they were hopeful the House could be called back into session in that event.
A summary of the new offsets for the 9-11 health appears below.
Summary of New Offsets for 9-11 Health Care Act (HR 847)
In the substitute amendment planned for HR 847, three offsets will replace the House-passed bill’s “treaty swapping” provision. The offsets, described below, contain no new taxes or fees on the American taxpayers or American businesses. Furthermore, the substitute amendment is estimated to reduce the deficit by $57 million over 10 years.
1. Savings Generated by Reducing Future U.S. Government Procurement Payments by 2 Percent to Companies Located in non-GPA countries ($4.59 billion over 10 years)
Every year, the United States spends between $35 billion to $40 billion per year on procurement of goods and services from foreign manufacturers and companies located abroad in countries that are not members of the Agreement on Government Procurement (GPA) instead of from American companies. The 9-11 rescue worker bill would impose a 2 percent excise fee on foreign manufacturers/companies located in non-GPA countries receiving government disbursements made pursuant to future procurement agreements. This proposal would both legally and practically operate to prohibit companies from raising their prices to offset the new fee.
Imposing this new fee will create short-term and long-term savings. In the short term, savings will materialize from competitive foreign contracts as companies offering substitute products and substitute processes will agree to digest all or some portion of the 2 percent fee decrease to attract/maintain lucrative U.S. procurement business. In the long term, foreign countries will be incentivized to sign the GPA and the U.S. will be incentivized to look to domestic sources to fill procurement needs. Even though the cost of procurement to the U.S. Government might initially increase when we purchase U.S. goods and services, net revenues to the government will increase when U.S. employees and U.S. companies pay taxes on the procurement contracts they receive (as opposed to foreign companies and employees receiving these contracts who pay less/no taxes).
2. Continuation of H-1B and L-1 Visa Fee for Outsourcing Companies ($800 million over 10 years)
As part of the Emergency Border Security Appropriations Act of 2010, which passed the Senate unanimously in August 2010, fees were raised on H-1B and L-1 visas for companies who have more than 50 percent of their employees on these visas (this affects outsourcing companies such as: Wipro, Tata, Infosys, Satyam—but does not affect American companies such as: Microsoft, Oracle, Intel, Apple, etc). This fee was set to expire on September 30, 2014. This bill will extend this fee until September 30, 2021 to continue leveling the playing field between companies that follow the Congressional intent behind these visa programs and companies that use these visas to outsource American jobs.
3. Continuation of Travel Promotion Fee ($1 billion over 10 years)
The Travel Promotion Act, which passed the Senate 78-18 in 2010, placed a small travel promotion act fee on certain travelers to the United States that was set to expire in 2015. This fee will simply be extended until 2021 and sunsets at that point.