CHICAGO
11/17/2010 02:30 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Mark Kirk Could Help Lock Down 9/11 Health Bill

A bill that would give up to $7.4 billion to workers who were sickened while cleaning up the World Trade Center following the September 11, 2001 attacks was passed by the House in September--and Mark Kirk, the newly-elected Republican Senator from Illinois--could help it pass in the Senate as well.

The Wall Street Journal reports that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand have been in talks with Kirk about the 9/11 health bill--which has been widely criticized by Republicans and needs two GOP votes in the Senate in order to pass.

"Mark Kirk is voting for the bill," 9/11 advocate John Feal told the New York Daily News. Feal lost part of his foot at Ground Zero.

Kirk, who will be sworn in as a senator early due to a bizarre legal issue involving Sen. Roland Burris, voted twice for the measure as a congressman. If he does vote for the legislation as Feal said he would, its sponsors would need just one more Republican vote to get it passed.

"A lot of people are being coy and cautious," Feal said after meeting with 20 senators. "But if they vote their conscience instead of their party, this bill will pass. And I think it will."

Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown and Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe have also been approached by Ground Zero workers, Mayor Bloomberg and New York lawmakers, the Daily News reports. Kirk is the only one who committed to the vote.

Republican critics called the bill a big-government program that would boost taxes and kill jobs.

Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, called it a "new entitlement program that we simply cannot afford."

According to the Wall Street Journal, the legislation would provide rescue workers and construction workers at Ground Zero with $3.2 billion for long-term health care and $4.2 billion in compensation for those exposed to the toxic dust.

Kirk's support of the 9/11 bill may come as a relief to many of his early supporters. Known as a moderate in his Illinois Congressional District, Kirk voted for a climate change bill and also supported the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell--but things changed when he began his campaign for U.S. Senate.

Kirk told Republican supporters he would vote against any cap-and-trade bill in the Senate, and voted against the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell in the House this last Spring.

This vote would be an example of the Republican senator reaching across the aisle almost immediately after taking office.

A vote on the legislation will probably happen after Thanksgiving during the lame duck session, according to the WSJ. If it is delayed further, Democrats may not be able to revive it in the Republican-controlled House.