And they were still doing it four years later:
I remember watching TV on that day, watching a large group of tough-looking, brawny ironworkers marching on foot down to Ground Zero, tears streaming down their faces, while one of them told a reporter that he didn't know how they were going to be able to help, but they just had to help. There were many people like this, along with the police and firefighters who were sent into harm's way by Rudy Giuliani -- the man who fancies himself the Patron Saint of 9/11 -- without adequate equipment. The recognized and unrecognized alike went down there and gave their all to try to save people. These people represent the best of what Americans can be when the chips are down.
Today many of them are sick or dying from respiratory ailments contracted while working at the site, because they trusted the reprehensible Christine Todd Whitman, George Bush's head of the EPA, who assured them at the air quality was safe. Some have died already, like James Zadroga, after whom legislation being blocked by Republicans to help these first responders pay their medical bills is named.
Yes, the Republican Party, which never hesitates to flog the corpses of the 9/11 dead to further their political aims, refuses to help the people they once used as props and called heroes, have some financial peace of mind before they leave this mortal coil. And Mitch McConnell is perhaps the most loathsome of the bunch:
Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader from Kentucky, refuses to take a public position on the $7.4 billion James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, but sources say that in private discussions he has not supported it.
When he was running for reelection two years ago, McConnell touted his support for a law that compensated "patriots" who worked to build America's nuclear arsenal during the Cold War.
McConnell said as much in an ad that sounds remarkably like the case for helping Americans who came from all over the country to toil in the toxins of Ground Zero - and got sick after officials said it was safe.
"During the Cold War, America's security depended on nuclear strength. Workers at Paducah's gaseous diffusion plant are patriots who did some of the most dangerous work," the ad says.
"We always knew the job was dangerous," says nuke worker David Fuller in the ad. "What we found out along the way was that it was more dangerous than what we were made aware of."
McConnell's spot crows that he won both a cancer screening program and compensation for people who were ignored and dying because of their service - much like 9/11's neglected responders.
"Really all we're asking for is the same thing that was done for nuclear workers," said Rep. Pete King (R-L.I.). "I would hope that Mitch McConnell realizes that 9/11 workers were just as victimized as the nuclear workers were, and they all should be protected by the federal government."
Advocates for 9/11 responders argued that McConnell's constituents would be all for him backing the Zadroga bill.
"Kentucky people are some of the most patriotic people in the country," Feal said. "They would be embarrassed if they knew Mitch McConnell was not supporting 9/11's patriots."
The Zadroga bill needs two Republican senators to sign on in order to pass. Insiders believe one is ready to join, but if McConnell said yes, many more likely would follow.
And yet McConnell, who refuses to do the right thing on the Zadroga bill (presumably because of the $7.4 billion price tag) insists that those who already have more money than they can spend in a thousand lifetimes, simply cannot survive without extending George W. Bush's irresponsible tax cuts (tax cuts which created not one job, I might add). Here he is on Face the Nation on Sunday:
SCHIEFFER: You have argued that one of the main purposes -- and other Republicans say the same thing -- is to reduce the deficit.
SCHIEFFER: But I have to ask you, Senator McConnell, when you're talking about extending those tax cuts for upper-income Americans, the estimates are that will cost $700 billion over the next 10 years. I mean, if you take all the tax cuts together, you're talking about $4 trillion. How do you intend to pay for those tax cuts?
MCCONNELL: Bob, it only costs $700 billion if you consider it the government's money. This is our money. This has been the tax rate for almost a decade -- almost a decade.
The federal government doesn't have this problem because it taxes too little. It's got it because it spends too much. We don't have a revenue problem. We have a spending problem. So the whole nomenclature surrounding this that somehow we're doing people a favor by giving them their own money back, I just don't accept. The government is too big. It needs to be shrunk.
We can do that by targeting the annual discretionary spending, which we, by the way, have already begun to do in this Congress. We're going to be able to do more of it in the next Congress. And then I'm hoping that the president's deficit reduction commission, which is supposed to report on December 1st, is going to have some recommendations with regard to our long-term debt problems, which are quite severe, that people like me and my Republican colleagues can support.
Forget about McConnell's grammar for a minute. Let's hold his feet to the fire about his notion that we "spend too much" and that keeping in place tax cuts that have resulted in an unemployment rate of over 10 percent will somehow magically create jobs now when they haven't in ten years. Howard Gleckman in the Christian Science Monitor takes a look at the folly of Mitch McConnell's economic "plan" and calls bullshit on it.
If Republicans want to stick to their guns about spending, they're more than welcome to do so. But if that's the case, then the almost-certain failure of the Zadroga bill ought to be hung around their necks like an albatross. Because these so-called "pro-life" Republicans who profess to represent "hard-working Americans" are turning their backs on some of the hardest-working, while they continue to shovel cash into the pockets of the wealthy.