The 9/11 First Responders will be getting additional help as the Senate passes a revised health care benefits bill for them today. Also on the agenda, the Senate ratified the new START Treaty with Russia, as well. A compromise aid package providing $4.2 Billion dollars was worked out by senators Tom Coburn (R-OK), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Charles Schumer (D-NY). Police and fire fighters suffering from illnesses brought about by their heroic efforts on 9/11 at the World Trade Center will receive compensation and the help they need, This will benefit some 16,000 first responders as well as about 2,700 people who live near Ground Zero.

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 22: One of the memorial pools is seen after a ceremonial planting of the so-called Survivor Tree at the 9/11 Memorial area of the World Trade Center site December 22, 2010 in New York City. The callery pear tree was originally planted in the 1970 s at the World Trade Center site and sustained extensive damage but lived through the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act may come up for a Senate vote today. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

The original package was a 10-year, $6.2 Billion dollar deal. Critics from the Democrats, including Jon Stewart, called out Republicans, like Tom Coburn, who were holding up the legislation. With the clock winding down on 2010, it was looking like the bill would not be voted on until next year. Members of the GOP resisted the earlier bill mainly due to the compromise deal with President Barack Obama that the measure to extend the Bush Tax Cuts would get priority before any other business and the method of paying for the package. Despite this agreement, Democrats continued to push the measure. Funds for the program will come from a fee on foreign companies that win U.S. government procurement contracts and on certain types of visas.

The legislation will be named for James Zadroga, a police detective who may have died from a respiratory disease he contracted while assisting in rescue and recovery efforts at the World Trade Center. However, the New York City medical examiner claims that prescription drug abuse caused his condition and death. Many doctors are still learning the extent, if any, between chronic disease and dust and materials from Ground Zero. Today’s legislation will help those still suffering economic losses from the 9/11 attacks.

Later, the Senate passed the new START Treaty for arms control of nuclear weapons between Russia and the United States. President Obama pushed hard for this agreement to be ratified before the end of the year, even postponing his holiday vacation in Hawaii. Senators Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and John McCain (R-AZ) opposed the bill due to concerns over missile defense. The treaty requires cuts in each country’s strategic missile force by one-third, down to just 1,500 warheads each. Also, the treaty re-establishes an inspection regime of weapon facilities by both countries.

With the passage of these two measures, the lame duck session of the Senate will be wrapping up shortly. Passing the 9/11 First Responders bill and ratifying the new START Treaty could be seen as victories for the Democrats and Barack Obama. However, they did have major setbacks in the closing weeks of the year. The failure of the DREAM Act will cause problems for the Latino base of Democrat supporters. Yesterday’s spending measure replaced an Omnibus bill that many considered to be another round of ‘stimulus’, meaning more wasted pork-barrel projects.

WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 20: Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) talks to reporters after a closed session about the New START Treaty in the Old Senate Chamber at the U.S. Capitol December 20, 2010 in Washington, DC. Kerry said that he believes there are enough Republican votes for the senate to ratify the treaty between Russia and the United States. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

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