Exclusive: Senate Strikes Deal on 9/11 First Responders Bill

Photo Courtesy - Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Senate Democrats and Republicans have struck a deal to secure passage of a bill to provide health benefits and compensation to September 11 first responders, Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., said Wednesday in an exclusive interview with ABC News.

In recent days, Coburn has come under withering criticism for opposing the bill on the grounds that it provided "overly generous funding" and included "unnecessary and duplicative compensation funds."

Coburn emerged from a closed-door meeting that included Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and New York Democrats Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand to reveal that a deal has been worked out that will likely enable the bill to pass the Senate -- and then the House -- by the end of the day.

Under the deal, the total cost of the bill over 10 years would be reduced from $6.2 billion to $4.2 billion. Of that $4.2 billion, $1.5 billion will go to health benefits for the first responders, while $2.7 billion will go to compensation for them.

"I'll stand in the way of anything that doesn't make sense and doesn't spend our money wisely, so you know, it doesn't matter what the issue is, we're in such a hole, Jon, that we don't have the luxury of not getting things right," Coburn told ABC News' Jonathan Karl. "And so we've come to an agreement that costs less, doesn't allow double-dipping, doesn't allow exorbitant lawyer fees, and we've worked it out and so we're going to take care of the folks, but we're going to do it in a way that doesn't punish the people that are going to pay the bill."

"But the way you've been hammered on this, standing against the heroes of 9/11…," replied Karl.

"I'm used to being hammered," Coburn said. "I'm not standing against them at all. I'm standing for us as America, the realization that we have to do things efficiently and economically. We've worked out a deal now that spends a whole lot less money, accomplishes exactly the same thing, and does it in a way that protects our future. Every bill should have to go through that -- and the fact that they don't is a problem. That's why we're $14 trillion in debt."

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


President Obama Signs 'Don't Ask Don't Tell' Repeal

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama signed into law a repeal of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy Wednesday morning, ending the ban on openly gay troops.

According to officials, the 17-year-old policy will remain in effect in the near term, however, until the president, defense secretary and Congress certify the military is ready to implement a repeal.  Then, a 60-day waiting period begins before the ban is officially removed from the books.

In the weeks ahead, the Pentagon is expected to revise policies and regulations to reflect the repeal, and train leaders on how to enforce the rules.  More than two million service members across the military are also expected to be briefed on what is expected of them and what is not.

Among the expected changes is non-discrimination against a military applicant who may volunteer that he or she is gay.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Looking to 2012, Gingrich Strikes Old Chord, Assails the Unemployed

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(SPARTANBURG, S.C.) -- As Newt Gingrich toys with the idea of a 2012 presidential run, he's opened to a worn page in his political playbook, targeting the unemployed.

At a recent speech to GOP activists in South Carolina, Gingrich was his vintage self, delivering a red-meat message to his conservative base that attacked many of the usual suspects -- the leftist news media, Hollywood and intellectuals -- but he reserved particular ire for those who were out of work.

"I'm opposed to giving people money for doing nothing," Gingrich said, painting those Americans who receive unemployment benefits as preferring a government handout to looking for a new job.

Gingrich compared unemployment insurance to welfare, a system he dramatically overhauled with President Clinton in mid-1990s.  According to the Los Angeles Times, Gingrich told the 250 activists that the U.S. last year spent $134 billion on unemployment compensation "and got nothing for it."

Instead of wasting money "paying people to do nothing for 99 weeks," he said he would make job training mandatory for anyone getting an unemployment check.

There are more than three million Americans who live in those 24 states hardest hit by the recession who are eligible for unemployment insurance for a maximum 99 weeks.  Other states cut off insurance money sooner.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Monkey Business: Tampa's Unsual Mayoral Candidate

Photo Courtesy - Monkey for Mayor(TAMPA, Fla.) -- U.S. politics can be full of monkey business, but a new campaign in Florida takes its meaning to a whole new level.

The "mystery monkey of Tampa Bay," who has gained celebrity status in the Sunshine State, is now in the running for mayor of Tampa.

"I am fed up with partisan poo-flinging," the monkey, who has yet to reveal his true self or his whereabouts to the public, said in a statement announcing his campaign.  "The taxpaying citizens of Tampa have been driven bananas by the out-of-touch political establishment and want someone who will fight for them.  I am the candidate voters will choose to navigate Tampa safely through this jungle of uncertainty."

The monkey launched his campaign this week with a sophisticated website, along with a Twitter account and Facebook page.  There are even free iPhone and Android apps that fans can download.

Tampa's infamous monkey has run amok in the city for nearly a year, boggling officials while gaining national stardom.  It has more than 81,000 fans on its Facebook page, and the mystery monkey has been featured on ABC's Jimmy Kimmel show and Comedy Central's Colbert Report, an appearance that forms the basis of the mysterious animal's first campaign ad.

The monkey, who has no publicly-revealed name, joins a crowded mayoral field of six other candidates.  But to many residents' dismay, his chances may be short-lived.

Its campaign hasn't filed official paperwork, and most importantly, it doesn't quite fit the requirements set by city election officials because it is not a person.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Obama Meets with Congressional Hispanic Caucus on DREAM Act

File Photo Courtesy -- Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama met with five members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Tuesday to discuss disappointment in the refusal of some in the House and Senate to allow a vote on the DREAM Act.
In a statement, the president said he will not give up on the DREAM Act, which would provide a path to citizenship for the children of illegal immigrants who go to college or serve in the military. Critics have dubbed the DREAM Act a nightmare, calling it amnesty for illegals by another name.

In the meeting, Obama also reiterated his commitment to a "comprehensive immigration reform" bill to fix what he called a broken immigration system. The group agreed that immigration reform should remain a top priority for the new Congress.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Holiday Rush: Senate Advances to Final Vote on START, Plans to Take Up 9/11 Bill Before Christmas

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Congress is inching ever closer to that Christmas break as lawmakers continue a flurry of last-minute work before the holiday.

The Senate Tuesday afternoon voted to move forward to a final vote on the START nuclear treaty with Russia. The pact overcame the Senate's 60-vote procedural hurdle with ease, advancing by a count of 67-28.

That "67" number is key, since the pact needs the support of two-thirds of the Senate for ratification -- 67 votes would get the job done. And it appears a near-certainty that it will get those votes, since 11 Republicans support the treaty: Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Bob Bennett of Utah, Scott Brown of Massachusetts, Thad Cochran of Mississippi, Susan Collins of Maine, Bob Corker of Tennessee, Johnny Isakson of Georgia, Dick Lugar of Indiana, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Olympia Snowe of Maine, and George Voinovich of Ohio.

A final vote could come late Tuesday, but more likely sometime on Wednesday.

"If in the end, the Senate in its wisdom ratifies this treaty, it's a victory for the country, not a victory for anybody else -- a victory for the country and that's what we're looking for," said Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry.

Once START is out of the way, the Senate is set to take another shot at passing a $6.2 billion measure to provide health care benefits and compensation first responders sickened during the clean-up after the 9/11 attacks.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Rep. Steve King: Lame Duck a ‘Pie in the Face of the American People’

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The anything-but-lame lame-duck Congress has drawn a fierce reaction from some Republicans on Capitol Hill, who claim that the burst of legislative action runs counter to the will of the American people.

Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, told ABC News that Republicans should vow to never pass such consequential legislation in the period between an election and the start of a new Congress.

"It's unbelievable. It's unprecedented," King told ABC News. "American voters [said] that they've had enough of the 111th Congress, that they wanted to shut it down on November the 2nd.  Still Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi march on, throwing another pie in the face of the American people -- driving in an agenda that's not supported by the American people."

"I just think it's disingenuous, and it's the wrong thing for the American people," King added. "Republicans should remember this, too."

King also said Republicans should repeal the Obama health care bill as their first major act, and should give such a move the honorary label as being the first bill filed.

"I think that should be HR 1. I think that should be addressed. I think the repeal of Obamacare needs to be HR 1 -- a clear stand-alone 100 percent repeal without an equivocation, without any marginal things at all. Repeal it all, pull it all out by the roots -- lock stock and barrel, so that there's not a vestige of it left behind."

And King dismissed -- for the most part -- speculation that he may try to run for president in 2012.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio 


Food Safety Passes House, Heading to White House

Photo Courtesy -- Getty Images(WASHINGTON) – After miraculously coming back to life in the Senate, the House of Representatives has passed the Food Safety Bill for the third time this Congress.

The bill would give the federal government far-reaching authority to set and enforce standards for farmers and food producers.

After the legislation was passed in the House over a year ago, and was stalled for months in the Senate, the House again passed the measure a few weeks ago to include a long-term continuing resolution.

The Senate never brought that version to the floor, instead passing a stand-alone food-safety measure three weeks ago. Concern arose in the House, however, that the Senate's version violated a constitutional provision that requires new taxes to originate in the House.

Recent Senate and House action has resolved disputes over the bill, which will now head to the White House where President Obama has signaled he will sign the legislation into law. 

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


'Where's His Heart?' Dem Senators & First Responders Rip Coburn For Opposing 9/11 Health Bill  

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- A group of senators from New York and New Jersey Tuesday joined with dozens of first responders to blast Republican opposition to the 9/11 health bill as the measure's chances of passage dim with each passing day before Christmas.

"I believe we have the votes to prevail. The only thing standing in our way is people who will try to run out the clock," Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said at a press conference on Capitol Hill.

Schumer was referring to Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who has vowed to oppose the bill -- a move that could derail its chances of passage since every bit of time is precious as Christmas approaches.

Earlier Tuesday Coburn, a doctor, told Fox News that the bill's chances of passage are "doubtful."

"Their hearts are in a good place. Their heads [are] not in a good place," Coburn said of the bill's supporters. "We can do this next year, and we should."

"This is a bill," he said, "that's been drawn up and forced through Congress at the end of the year on a basis to solve a problem that we didn't have time to solve and we didn't get done."

Tuesday Schumer fired back, "That is not fair, not right, and that flies in the face of America."

"Please don't stop this bill," he pleaded. "If it doesn't happen now it is unlikely to ever happen again."

John Feal, the founder of the FealGood foundation, a non-profit organization pushing for the bill's passage -- ripped into Coburn.

"Where's his heart?" asked Feal. "Because it's not in the right place. These men and women behind me have gone eight Christmases suffering without any help from the federal government, so I question his heart."

"This man is a doctor. He took an oath to help people. He shouldn't be a senator and he shouldn't be a doctor if he's going to go out there and attack this bill. A doctor who's against helping people who are sick? Figure that out," said Feal.

Feal urged Congress to act on the bill before it adjourns for the year, and also lashed out at President Obama during the press conference, who Feal accuses of not doing enough to push the bill. "What happened that our president can't come out and support heroes? Someone please answer that," Feal pleaded.

His criticism of Obama was echoed by Carolyn Maloney, D-NY, who called out Obama: "Mr. President, please step up to the mound." Maloney said.

Even if the Senate passes the bill in the final days before Christmas, the holiday could still present an obstacle because the House would have to pass it again due to the recent changes. While the House could ultimately pass the bill by unanimous consent, there is no guarantee that it would be able to before time on the year's legislative clock runs out.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio 


START Clears Procedural Hurdle in Senate

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The Senate this afternoon voted to move forward to a final vote on the nuclear arms reduction treaty START.

The treaty overcame the Senate's 60-vote procedural hurdle by a vote of 67-28.
A final vote could come later today, but it's more likely to come tomorrow. The treaty will need 67 votes for final ratification and, as evidenced by this afternoon's developments, it appears to have them.

Eleven Republicans voted in favor of ending debate on the pact and advancing it to a final vote: Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Bob Bennett of Utah, Scott Brown of Massachusetts, Thad Cochran of Mississippi, Susan Collins of Maine, Bob Corker of Tennessee, Johnny Isakson of Georgia, Dick Lugar of Indiana, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Olympia Snowe of Maine, and George Voinovich of Ohio.

Every Democrat that voted also supported advancing to a final vote.

Critics claim the treaty strips away the United States' nuclear preparedness at a time when the militaries of China, Russia, North Korea, and Iran continue to modernize.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

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