Ground Zero Mosque Debate Fuels Health Bill

The fight creates a bind for Republicans who have fought legislation to help ailing 9/11 heroes.

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BY Michael Mcauliff
DAILY NEWS WASHINGTON BUREAU

The furor over the mosque near Ground Zero may be good for one thing: It's fueling New York legislators' push to pass the 9/11 health bill.

Lawmakers and sources told the Daily News they are starting a push to get balky Republicans on board.

A lobbying campaign will play off the GOP's recent embrace of 9/11 victims in the mosque fight. The measure also will be tweaked to satisfy GOP complaints on how it's paid for.

"The mosque is going to guarantee we pass this bill," a Democratic aide predicted.

Mayor Bloomberg and Rep. Pete King (R-L.I.) have already set up a meeting with House Minority Leader John Boehner and other GOP leaders to discuss the $7.4 billion measure known as the Zadroga bill. [See who donates the most money to King.]

If GOPers want to block it, they could add a poison pill to the bill. Just 12 Republicans backed the measure to care and compensate for 9/11 victims when it failed earlier this month under a procedure meant to outmaneuver GOP opponents.

But the mosque fight changes the equation, creating a bind for Republicans who lambaste the Park Place Islamic center plan as an insult to 9/11 families - but who have fought legislation to help ailing heroes.

"This whole controversy over the mosque and community center ... certainly ratchets up the pressure on the Republicans," said Rep. Jerry Nadler. "It is going to be harder for them ... to vote against actually helping the survivors as opposed to just talking about the survivors' feelings." [See who donates the most money to Nadler.]

"That's the argument that Mike Bloomberg and I will be making," said King. "You're going to find more Republicans likely to vote for the bill because of the controversy over the mosque."

President Obama already had such a conversion. The White House had favored a more limited health program, having doubled funding for sick responders to $150million. But that's far less than the bill.

After responders lashed out at Obama for speaking up for the rights of the Islamic center's developers while keeping silent on the Zadroga bill, the White House said he looked forward to signing the 9/11 bill.

Democrats think Republicans will feel a similar pinch, and if Dems offer a way to pay for the legislation the GOP can live with, it would win enough backing.

King and Democratic sources said legislators think they are close to that goal.