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Senate Republicans Explain Their Vote Against 9/11 First Responder Health Care

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WASHINGTON -- Senate Republicans, who blocked a bill to provide care for 9/11 first responders suffering health consequences as a result of their work amid the burning and smoking buildings at Ground Zero, explained themselves with a variety of reasons.

Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) said he voted against the first responders bill because Republicans had threatened to vote against everything until tax cuts for the rich were extended and a measure to fund the government was passed.

Despite the fact that President Barack Obama had met the GOP demands, Senate Republicans continued to block action in the upper chamber until everything was complete and signed into law.

"I signed a letter saying we need to be focusing on what we're doing right now," Ensign said, explaining his vote to filibuster the bill.

"Plus that was more spending that was not offset," said Ensign, arguing that the program shouldn't be funded without cuts or tax hikes elsewhere.

A GOP aide said the two parties were in negotiations aimed at finding the roughly $7.4 billion that would be needed to fund the program, though time is running out in the 111th Congress.

Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) also said he opposed moving forward on the bill because he wanted to get to tax cuts and the budget first. "I wanted to get to other items," he said. He then added, upon further reflection, that he had actually been out of town and wasn't around to vote to filibuster the bill. Brownback will become Kansas governor next and, he said, he was busy back home crafting the budget. He is recorded as not having voted.

"We need to get the issue addressed for the firefighters and the 911 victims, and we will," Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) said on Fox News, clipped by "The Daily Show". "The difference I think with the tax bill is there is a deadline, January first. We have to get this done. Taxes go up on January first."

One GOP senator, Orrin Hatch of Utah, who voted to continue filibustering the bill, told HuffPost he couldn't remember how he voted on the measure. Hatch, in that respect, seems about as familiar with the bill as White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs. In a briefing with reporters, Gibbs noted, in his own defense, that he had never been asked about it by the media before. "No one's questioning the goals of this legislation -- the question is why can't we do it without adding to the deficit? That's why Senator Hatch opposed the bill," a spokeswoman for Hatch said.

Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) has vowed to support the bill when it comes to the floor again -- assuming that it does -- leaving Democrats to woo moderates such as Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine.

Meanwhile, Collins called the Capitol Police Thursday afternoon on protesting 9/11 first responders who traveled to Washington to register their anger at the stalling over the bill, reports the New York Daily News.