NEW YORK - The politicians who wrangled a last-minute compromise bill that gave 9/11 survivors and responders five more years of health care and billions of dollars in compensation gathered at the World Trade Center site Thursday to declare a patriotic victory, though others disagree over whether the bill goes far enough.
Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer joined other New York politicians and some ground zero workers beneath the rising construction at the site to celebrate the $4.2 billion legislation, which they said amounted to a declaration that the United States would not abandon those who defended its people in a time of war.
"When you risk your life for this country in a time of war, America is there for you," Schumer said. "Yesterday we affirmed that tradition."
But lawyer Noah Kushlefsky, whose firm has represented hundreds of 9/11 victims seeking payment, said the $2.7 billion limit on the victims' compensation fund would probably shortchange victims and their families.
"Whatever the measure of reasonable compensation is, they likely will not be given that," Kushlefsky said. The person responsible for administering the fund is required to make the money last for five years and assume there will be no more funds after that, he said.
Some others who had responded to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks were "ecstatic," said their attorney, Andrew Carboy.
"This is the recognition, compensation, and health care they so richly deserved," he said.
The bill, years in the making, was all but dead just days ago, when Republican senators blocked it from coming to a vote. But the measure cleared a key hurdle after Schumer and Gillibrand, both Democrats, reached a compromise with Sen. Tom Coburn (R., Okla.) reducing the bill's scope and cost.
Bill Ferraro was among the hard-hat-wearing men cheering the legislation at the news conference.
"This is closure for me," said the ironworker, 62, who worked at ground zero on 9/11 and for the three weeks that followed, and says he now has a hard time breathing.
Ferraro said that when it seemed the bill was not going to pass, he felt he was being abandoned after doing his patriotic duty, just as he felt when he was called a baby killer upon returning from the Vietnam War. But now, he says, some of his worries about receiving treatment in the years to come have faded.
"At least they didn't turn their backs on us," he said. ". . . It restores your faith in America."