September 11 First Responders Health Bill Passes Congress

The House and Senate have passed a bill to provide funding for the health care of first responders to the September 11 terrorist attacks.  The revised agreement has a $4.2 billion price tag, which is about $2 billion less than the original version.  Republicans had expressed concerns about the open-ended nature of the bill, and insisted the government find a way to pay for it without adding excessively to the deficit.

Those were reasonable concerns, but you wouldn’t know it to hear the thunderous demagoguery from Democrats, who had taken to howling into the cameras during press conferences.  They had moved past questioning the patriotism of Republican holdouts, and begun challenging their very humanity.

This is a good example of the dangers of government by panic.  Congress a solemn duty to safeguard the public treasury, and manage the affairs of the nation.  “Solemn” is the opposite of freaking out in the last days of a lame-duck session, in the hope that withering media attention will lead to the triumph of emotion over reason.

It’s a good thing that a comprehensive program has been crafted to address the long-term health needs of first responders.  (An earlier, temporary measure to provide $20 billion in emergency assistance to New York has long since expired.)  Nothing about the situation demanded the creation of an unlimited entitlement, or abandoning precautions against waste and fraud.  One of the first orders of business for the lame-duck Congress was shoveling another billion dollars into the Pigford fraud, where thousands of bogus claims have been filed.  Maybe they should have saved that billion for the heroes of 9/11 instead.

On top of Pigford, we’ve seen billions wasted in Medicare fraud, millions paid to convicts filing phony tax returns, and California Republican congressman Darrell Issa’s recent report that $125 billion in taxpayer money disappeared through “improper payments” over the past year.  I can’t find any reason to blindly trust this government to carefully manage a few billion more, especially when those demanding it maintain that no patriotic American can question them in any way.

The Republicans refused to be bullied, and asked tough questions anyway.  Of course this bill was presented as an emergency.  There will always be emergencies.  That’s why promises of fiscal discipline are useless if they come with copious no-questions-asked exceptions for emergencies.  The beneficiaries of every huge spending initiative will always be portrayed as righteous.  The people meant to benefit from the 9/11 first responders bill are certainly heroes.  Are they more, or less, righteous than the last group that needed billions in benefits, the unemployed?  How about the one before that?

Remember when the Democrats wasted days of the lame-duck session by drafting ridiculous tax and budget proposals everyone knew had no chance of passage, just to give themselves sound bites on the evening news shows?  If they were so concerned about the heroes of 9/11, they could have spent that time discussing this bill in a calm and reasoned manner.

Americans are tired of urgency being used as a solvent to dissolve restraint and responsibility.  Let the next politician who wails about the immediate need to spend billions without delay show us which parts of this bloated, corrupt, wasteful government he’s willing to cut, in order to pay for them.  Let the next panicked member of Congress or the Administration who says it’s a sinful delay to insist on oversight show us the government program that would not have benefited from more of it.

It’s good that those who suffer long-term ill effects from fighting to save lives on 9/11 will benefit from this bill.  It’s also good that it was done right.