Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) was right to insist on greater financial accountability and fraud prevention in the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act (history of text changes here).
The Zadroga Act had all the hallmarks of the type of government spending which, without vigilance, gave rise to massive fraud in Hurricane Katrina relief. Take a worthy cause and pick a number out of a hat, and what you get is a rip-off of the taxpayers, which is what happened on a huge scale in the aftermath of Katrina.
Taking care of 9/11 responders who actually became ill from dust inhaled during or in the aftermath of 9/11 certainly is a worthy cause, but the numbers thrown about by Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand appeared to be picked out of a hat. Coburn was right to ask why “X billion dollars” and not “Y billion dollars.”
In fact, more than $2 billion was shaved off the price tag by the time the bill was passed, without any obvious harm to the purpose of the bill.
Republicans were bullied into writing a blank check for Katrina relief by legitimately sad stories. Even The NY Times called Katrina relief fraud “breathtaking.”
Schumer and Gillibrand shamelessly brought out 9/11 responders for the same purpose — to demagogue the issue by claiming Republicans did not want to help responders when in fact the issue was that the bill had not been vetted in the normal process and the numbers had not been justified.
The Democratic-controlled House did not even pass an earlier version of the bill until three months ago, so the notion that Republicans in the Senate caused years of delay simply was false.
Coburn issued the following statement when a compromise was reached:
“I’m pleased the sponsors of this bill agreed to lower costs dramatically, offset the bill, sunset key provisions and take steps to prevent fraud. Every American recognizes the heroism of the 9/11 first responders, but it is not compassionate to help one group while robbing future generations of opportunity. I’m pleased this agreement strikes a fair balance and improves the bill the majority attempted to rush through at the last minute.”
Tom Coburn was right.