WASHINGTON Senate Republicans on Thursday blocked a bill that would provide medical care for firefighters and other responders to the September 11, 2001, attacks who developed illnesses from breathing toxic, dust-filled air.
The 57-42 procedural vote fell short of the 60 needed to advance major legislation in the 100-member chamber. The House of Representatives passed the bill in September and Senate action is needed to send it to President Barack Obama for his signature.
The $7.4 billion measure was one of a number of bills Senate Republicans have blocked as lawmakers push to complete their work for the year.
Republicans have vowed to block any legislation, other than bills to fund the U.S. government, until an impasse is resolved over extending expiring tax cuts for virtually all taxpayers, including the wealthiest Americans.
Republicans argue that allowing the tax cuts for the wealthiest to expire at the end of December as scheduled would hurt small businesses and undermine the sluggish U.S. economy.
They also have balked at the cost of the health measure.
Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid ripped into what he described as Republican obstructionism.
"Republicans denied adequate health care to the heroes who developed illnesses from rushing into burning buildings on 9/11," Reid said. "Yet they will stop at nothing to give tax breaks to millionaires and CEOs, even though they will explode our deficit and fail to create jobs.
"That tells you everything you need to know about their priorities," he said.
The measure could be brought back to the Senate floor before the current Congress adjourns in the next several days.
When it became clear the bill would not muster 60 votes, Reid ended up voting "no" so he could call for another vote on the bill under Senate rules.
(Reporting by Donna Smith; Editing by Xavier Briand)