Dems play politics with 9/11 workers JAMES RICHARDSON | 8/1/10 1:42 PM EDT Updated: 8/1/10 3:53 PM EDT In spite of fierce public opposition, the Democrats' sizable House majority secured passage of President Barack Obama's controversial overhaul of the nation's health care system. But this same majority failed Friday in its efforts to create a popular multi-billion dollar health care fund for emergency responders affected by toxic dust and debris in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack. The House leadership had suspended typical proceduresârequiring a simple majorityâon the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2009 in order to prevent GOP-offered amendments that they feared might compromise the votes of endangered Democrats. Senior Democrats were concerned that Republicans might offer a motion to recommit â sending the bill back to committee with instructions to pay for it with funds from the president's health care reforms. The Democratsâ procedural tack meant the bill needed two-thirds majority to pass â a large coalition that senior Democrats surely knew was untenable. Republicans asserted the Democrats were then likely to blame the billâs failure on the GOP, accusing it of pettyâand unpatrioticâobstructionism. This situation is, of course, far different from what Democratic attack ads this November are likely to portray. Republicans objected not to the compensation fund, rather to the way its coffers were filled. As usual, Democrats wanted a program paid for by a new tax â in this case, one on foreign-registered firms operating within the United States. As a matter of policy, Republicans oppose entitlement programs, both old and new, though ideological rigidity here takes second to honoring and caring for these emergency responders. For the Republican caucus, the key problem was the pay-for tax increase that Democrats engineered for the $7.4 billion measure. The GOP's more wonkish members were concerned the tax increase might force closures of foreign-registered but domestic-operating firms that employ Americans. Others, were uneasy that the bill was not means tested. But Democrats did not need Republicansâor need to consider their qualmsâto pass this bill. They had a comfortable margin to make this health care program a reality for the heroes of Sept. 11. Instead, Democrats adopted a crudely partisan, morally repugnant tack by hiking the vote threshold for passage. Mired in political quicksand, with many of the caucus's most senior members facing tough re-election battles, congressional Democrats have become increasingly aware that their many legislative victories are not enough to sour voters' new taste for Republicans. Another legislative win would have a negligible effect on what most political handicappers predict will be a Democratic-hostile election. What Democrats needed, and found in the bill's failure, was the ideal opportunity for a thunderous rebuke of Republicans: An ideological win that would capture the interest and anger of the nation still lingering from Sept. 11. In tantrums that have gone viral, Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) fulminated against the GOP on the floor of the House and later on Fox News. "(M)embers say 'We want amendments, we want debate, but we're still a No!ââ Weiner, whose forehead could barely contain its throbbing veins, shouted from a House lectern. "It's Republicans wrapping their arms around Republicans rather than doing the right thing on behalf of the heroes. It is a shame!" But Republican "no" votes, as a consequence on the Democrats' pay-for scheme, were not the billâs undoing. It was the Democratic procedural gimmickry that killed it. And it is Democratic procedural gimmickry that has driven congressional approval ratings to its lowest-recorded levels â 11 percent. Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), who represents many of those who survived 9/11, summed up the situation: "They're afraid of taking a tough vote and as a result of that, they're willing to let cops and firefighters die."