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Needed: A GOP Ground Zero Hero

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We're searching for one last Ground Zero hero, and he or she has to come from the ranks of Republican senators.

The 9/11 health bill was expected to come up for a vote in the Senate this week, though Republicans are vowing to block debate on Democrat-backed legislation until the Bush-era tax cuts are extended and a spending bill is approved to fund government operations.

The measure would provide money for health care and financial aid to firefighters, police officers and construction workers and volunteers who worked on the 9/11 cleanup but developed symptoms too late to join in a recently settled lawsuit.

The bill has already passed the House, but with mainly Democratic votes. It's unlikely it could get traction next year when the Republicans take control.

The Senate - as we have all learned to our sorrow over the last few years - can't pass anything without 60 votes to overcome a minority filibuster. The Democrats have 58 votes and they're counting on Mark Kirk, the newly sworn in Republican from Illinois, who voted for the bill when he was in the House.

That still leaves one vote. The Senate backers of the bill have been reluctant to publicly name their targets, but here are some people the Ground Zero victims should be looking to for help.

Scott Brown of Massachusetts: The surprise winner of the special election for Ted Kennedy's old seat portrays himself as a friend of working men and women. During a debate on extending unemployment benefits, Brown stuck hard with Republican opponents but insisted over and over that he wanted desperately to get the benefits extended - as long as there was a way to pay for it.

The James Zadroga health bill - named after a police officer who worked at Ground Zero and later died of respiratory failure -- is being paid for by closing a loophole in the laws taxing foreign corporations that do business in the United States. Here's Brown's chance to show the voters in his blue state that he's a Republican willing to stand up to his party when the cause is right.

Susan Collins of Maine: The ranking Republican on the Senate's Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, Collins is among the Senators most familiar with Ground Zero issues. She's also one of the most moderate members of the Republican caucus.

Olympia Snowe of Maine: With Collins, Snowe has formed what was pretty much the entire moderate caucus among the Republican Senators since Arlen Specter bolted to the Democrats. Lately, Democrats have been suggesting that she's great at bipartisan talking, but then draws back when it's crunch time. She's up for re-election in 2012. But does she think that even the Republican primary voters in Maine would punish her for supporting the Ground Zero workers?

John McCain: Along with Collins, McCain was a first stop for Mayor Bloomberg when he came to Washington to lobby for the bill. It's hard to remember, but there was a time when he was the Republican everyone would turn to when the Senate needed someone to do the right thing. Maybe he can remind us.

The men and women who worked on the Ground Zero cleanup were victims of the terrorist attack, and also of the appalling choices made by government officials who should have been looking out for their best interests.

Rudy Giuliani's City Hall and George Bush's White House were focused on getting Wall Street up and running as quickly as possible. And they failed miserably when it came to making sure that the people working to make that happen were wearing the bulky, uncomfortable but desperately important safety equipment.

Firefighters, police officers, construction workers, and other cleanup and repair crews were exposed to toxic dust that lingered in their bodies. In some cases the effects took years to show up, making it impossible for the victims to sign up as plaintiffs in the civil suit.

Government let them down once. We just need one brave volunteer to step forward and make sure it doesn't happen again.