Las Vegas Sun

November 21, 2019

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House OKs 9/11 health care bill, Heller leaves early

Winter vacation is finally starting for members of the House of Representatives — though for one Nevada rep, it looks like it came a little bit early.

The Democrats’ reign of the House of Representatives officially ended at precisely 6 p.m., when the body was gaveled out after a final vote, on a measure to approve health care for first responders to the 9-11 attacks.

The measure passed by a healthy margin of 206-60. And if that looks like a weird vote count for a 435-strong House, it should.

One hundred and sixty-eight members of the House of Representatives decided not to stick around Washington to see out the session to its end, apparently including Nevada’s Dean Heller, who didn’t cast a vote.

To be sure, this isn’t the most directly vital piece of legislation to the state of Nevada — a point Senator John Ensign reminded of earlier today, when he pointed out that the 9/11 bill had nearly stripped funds from the Travel Promotion Act he and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had championed through Congress earlier this year.

“The Travel Promotion Act is vital to repairing our state’s tourism industry and one of many important steps that we need to take to get Nevadans back to work,” Ensign said in a statement. “I am proud that the people of our state will be protected against the misappropriation of these important funds, while still providing help to these first responders.”

But supporters have championed it as a debt owed for the service of those professionals and laypeople who were first on the scene performing heroic rescues as the Twin Towers collapsed in Manhattan, but sustained everything from lost limbs to severe respiratory conditions. An estimated 70 percent of the 9/11 first responders have some sort of health ailment as a result of their efforts during and after the terror attack.

“The patriots who rushed into burning buildings, saved lives, and helped us rebuild from the rubble of 9/11 are genuine American heroes,” Reid said in a statement. “These first responders went above and beyond the call of duty in our country’s hour of greatest need. Just as they helped us recover from 9/11, we will take care of them.”

The 9/11 bill’s fate was touch-and-go in the Senate until this afternoon, when lawmakers struck a deal to circumvent objections raised by Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma (yes, the same one who wants to get rid of the Neon Boneyard) and clear it by unanimous consent.

But back to the House.

It’s unlikely that Heller’s vote, whether for or against the bill, would have counted for much, even with almost 40 percent of the House gone. Nearly equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats were missing: 79 Dems, and 89 GOPers.

Still, he was the one member of Nevada’s delegation not to weigh in on the issue today.

Both of Nevada Democratic Representatives, Shelley Berkley and Dina Titus — for whom the 9/11 bill represented the last vote she’ll take in Congress — cast votes in favor of the legislation.

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