On Nov. 29, the day Sen. Mark Kirk was sworn into office, he signed a letter with all the other Senate Republicans promising not to act on any legislation until the Senate voted on government funding measures and to extend the Bush era tax federal income tax breaks. By signing the letter, Kirk stuck with his GOP leadership the first day on the job. But there is a real life consequence for 9/11 responders because of Kirk's self-imposed pledge.
During the hard fought Illinois general election Senate race -- and during his House career representing Illinois' 10th congressional district -- Kirk touted his moderate credentials, citing votes where he broke with the GOP, such as on stem cell research.
One of these break-from-the-pack votes occurred on Sept. 29, in the heat of the campaign when Kirk was appealing to Democratic and independent voters in Illinois. On that day, Kirk was one of only 17 Republicans in the House -- and the only Republican in the Illinois delegation -- to vote for the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010.
That bill would create a compensation fund for thousands who worked at or near the twin towers of the World Trade Center destroyed in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The measure would set aside $3.2 billion for medical benefits and $4.2 billion for death and injury claims -- including for two Chicago firefighters.
The Senate took up the 9/11 bill last Thursday and in a test vote, it failed on a party line roll call: There were 57 Democrats for and 42 Republicans against, including Kirk. Sixty votes were needed in order to advance the measure.
Kate Dickens, a Kirk spokesperson, said in an e-mail, "The senator has been clear that he supports the 9/11 health bill and has reflected that when he was in the House. Once congressional leaders move forward on the president's tax proposal to establish certainty for Americans before the year ends, we can move on to other domestic priorities like this one."
As a practical matter, however, it will be very difficult to move the 9/11 bill again during the time remaining in the lame-duck session. And as a former House member, Kirk must know that the bill has virtually no chance of passage next year, when the Republicans are in control of the House.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid could bring the 9/11 measure back for another vote, but will be reluctant to do so for two reasons: There is little time left this year; on Monday, the Senate takes up debate over the tax package.
The other reason is Reid needs to find three more votes. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) has made an appeal to Kirk, since he is already on record as having voted for the bill -- as well as other GOP moderates.
Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a Kirk backer during the election, is quoted in Saturday's New York Post as fuming at Senate Republicans for blocking the 9/11 bill. "I think this is a very big mistake," the Post quotes Giuliani who was mayor during the 9/11 attacks. "Any time you treat Sept. 11 as a political issue, which is what they are doing . . . I think is just wrong."
As it stands, the Kirk record will show he was for the 9/11 bill before he was against it.