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Mad Men: A Congress Out of Control

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Before July 30, 2010, I sincerely thought I had seen it all when it came to political posturing and obstructionism. But on this special day, after almost nine years of backroom discussions between the 9/11 first responders, attorneys and the representatives of the House and Senate ... partisan politics hit an all-time low and our heroes were once again re-victimized by the system set up to help them.

The "James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010," designed to provide medical and economic assistance to the New York Police Department, New York Fire Department, Port Authority, Emergency Medical Services and construction workers who inhaled toxic air and fumes at Ground Zero after the terrorist attack on 9/11 at the World Trade Center, was shot down in a disgusting display of partisan politics.

Almost everyone has seen the now-infamous rant of Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) against Rep. Peter King (R-NY) because he "didn't bring enough of his Republican constituents" on board to pass the Zadroga bill. But the irony of Mr. Weiner's thrashing is that he and Mr. King were on the same side of the issue. Mr. King, one of the co-sponsors of this bill, is an ardent supporter of this legislation and continues to work vehemently to make sure the Zadroga bill passes when the House votes again on this amendment in September.

And Congress wonders why they are at an 11% approval rating?

In the meantime, first responders are dying. Why should we care? Because while most people were running away from the both World Trade Center towers as they burned, and eventually collapsed, these heroes ran towards the flames to see how many lives they could save.

One of the reportorial issues I have with my colleagues is that very few stories have humanized the rescue workers. Yes, they receive a two-minute hit on various stations after the defeat of the bill, or when one of the FDNY's own dies of cancer-related lung disease from cleaning up the rubble of what was once the World Trade Center. But they very rarely take the time to find out exactly how many people are suffering and who these people are.

Charles Giles, 42, married with two beautiful daughters, served as a former EMT worker for 17 years. On 9/11, Mr. Giles saved 13 people when the first tower was hit. Before the second plane hit, Charlie (as his friends call him) was busy saving a another rescue worker from the North Tower, when he collapsed and was pulled to safety after suffering first and second degree burns, a scratched cornea and smoke inhalation. After being treated at Jacoby Medical Center, he was released and resumed his job as an EMT worker.

He believed former NJ Governor Christie Todd Whitman, the EPA spokesperson, who claimed that the air at Ground Zero was safe. So Charlie decided to resume his job and devoted 497 hours down at the site as part of the EMS Bucket Brigade when he was released from the hospital.

Fast forward to 2007 -- this once strong and powerful young man developed a series of diseases that reads like a full encyclopedia of ailments. Just a few of them: chronic bronchial asthma, obstructive sleep apnea, pericarditis, coronary artery disease, poly neuropathy, right hip replacement, avascular necrosis are slowly, and painfully taking his life.

When I met Charlie at a "Fealgood Foundation" benefit in December 2009, he was using a cane and barely able to walk. He was overweight and bloated from the years of steroid use, and exhausted from the simple task of getting up to clap when his friend and fellow hero, John Feal (another 9/11 first responder who lost part of his foot when eight tons of steel came down on him at the World Trade Center site), gave a speech. Charlie says that he owes his life to the Mr. Feal, who tirelessly lobbies on behalf of 9/11 first responders and throws charity events through his foundation in order to assist these former NYPD, FDNY, Transit and EMT workers pay their bills. But even the Fealgood Foundation, which depends on private sector funds, couldn't help Charlie from losing his house two-years-ago.

Charlie is now on 39 medications (up from 29 when I met him seven-months-ago), many of them dealing with pulmonary disease, chronic pain, congestive heart failure and circulatory problems. He needs another hip replacement, but his condition is so severe, he cannot undergo the procedure because of the general anesthesia.

The team of nine doctors that treat Charlie told him recently that he has entered the fatal stage of his numerous diseases. And they aren't sure exactly when, but soon he could go to sleep and never wake up again.

So while the Democrats and Republicans take their luxurious 6-week vacations, my friend Charlie is bedridden and waiting to die.

Why? Because of a dysfunctional Congress that placed partisanship over people. Instead of a simple up-and-down vote, the Democrats required a 2/3 vote to force Republicans out of adding any amendments. Earlier in the week, the Republicans had attached an amendment to prevent illegal immigrants from receiving benefits from this bill. So the Democrats knew that they were in effect, killing the bill which would have passed with a majority vote, but they wanted to leave the House with a message that Republicans didn't support our heroes. So, when the donkeys return from their vacations in September - they can use their partisan victory to thrash the elephants in time for the November elections.

How can we, the people, do something about this will be in part 2 of this series.