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June 23 — The Senate might still be able to vote in July on its companion to the House's 21st Century Cures bill, despite procedural obstacles, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said June 23.
“It’s complicated when you’re dealing with so many different interests,” Alexander told reporters. “But the fact is, if it’s going to help millions of Americans with Alzheimer’s, with a Zika vaccine, and even restore eyesight, then there’s no excuse not to finish our work. And I think we should finish our work within the next three weeks.”
A July vote on legislation to spur new medical treatments would come about a year after the House overwhelmingly passed its bill (H.R. 6) (9 LSLR 842, 7/24/15). As chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Alexander, who has been the top Republican in leading the Senate Cures effort, noted that the bill has the support of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) as well as President Barack Obama.
“And so if you’ve got the House, the Senate and the president all wanting something to happen, there’s no reason it shouldn’t,” he said.
Earlier that morning, Alexander said during the Bipartisan Policy Center's event on medical innovation, “we are in the midst of discussions between Majority Leader McConnell and [House] Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to finish the job” on 21st Century Cures.
Alexander's latest comments reiterate a statement he made in May that he would like to see the full Senate vote in July (10 LSLR 10, 5/13/16).
If not July, Alexander told reporters the chances are good that the Senate will pass the legislation, which would expedite federal approval processes for innovative biomedical cures such as artificially regenerated organs and nonaddictive pain medications, later this year. “I'm determined it will pass,” he said.
After the Independence Day recess, the Senate reconvenes briefly through July 15—a total of eight working days—before the long summer recess through Sept. 5.
Bloomberg Intelligence Analyst Brian Rye said there are decent odds that the Senate will vote in July, although it's “far from certain.”
“A potentially bigger calendar-related hurdle is that—assuming the Senate can act in July—a final compromise bill would need to be hammered out with the House. But the House will likely be in recess from July 15th until Labor Day, back in session for the rest of September, then out from the beginning of October through the week of the November elections,” Rye told Bloomberg BNA on June 23. “Other issues have taken priority, and although there is bipartisan support for the Cures initiative, there's no deadline forcing Congress to act this year.”
The Senate companion measure to Cures consists of a legislative package of 19 bills, which the Senate HELP committee approved over a series of three sessions earlier this year. The main holdups in moving to a floor vote, Alexander said, are the complexity of the proposals in those 19 bills as well as disagreements about how to pay for the legislative package. Senate HELP Democrats have insisted on mandatory funding for the National Institutes of Health; Alexander said he's open to an innovation surge fund that would pay for specific projects such as the White House's precision medicine and cancer moonshot initiatives. He has said he wants to resolve the funding disagreements, so the committee can offer those bills on the Senate floor, alongside a mechanism for how to pay for them.
“But it’s not all about money,” Alexander said, noting that the Senate Appropriations Committee provided the NIH with a $2-billion increase under its health appropriations package approved June 9 (10 LSLR 13, 6/24/16). If enacted, that increase would build on another $2 billion that the NIH received for FY 2016, bringing the agencies budget from $30 billion to $34 billion over two years. “That’s a big step forward. More of the bill is about speeding up these treatments and these medicines.”
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More information on the Bipartisan Policy Center event is available at http://bipartisanpolicy.org/events/using-real-world-evidence-to-accelerate-safe-and-effective-cures/.
More information on the House's 21st Century Cures bill (H.R. 6) is available at https://energycommerce.house.gov/cures.
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