A Weekly Advocacy Letter from Mary Woolley: Drama in the Capitol

Mary Woolley

Dear Research Advocate: 

If you’ve read Ron Chernow’s “Hamilton,” you know that the partisan stand-off we are witnessing in the House, and more broadly across the nation, is not new. Chernow reminds us that political parties -- not originally foreseen by the Founding Fathers -- grew out of intense and often ugly disagreements between Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson during the second administration of George Washington. That insight doesn’t make this week’s turn of events less dramatic, but it does offer perspective. In the midst of the Democratic sit-in on preventing gun violence, the House adjourned earlier than expected and won’t resume business until July 5.

Just before adjourning early this morning, the House passed a bill without Democratic support that provides $1.1 billion in Zika funding. It remains unclear whether the Senate will pass this bill, which includes offsets in the form of as yet unspent Ebola and ACA funding and includes several controversial riders. (Unrelated to the early recess, House consideration of the Labor-H appropriations bill, which includes funding for NIH, CDC, AHRQ, and more, has been delayed to next month.)

The Senate failed to pass any of four proposed gun-related bills on Monday; other bills are being considered today. The ongoing debate could complicate full Senate passage of the Commerce, Justice, Science appropriations bill, which includes funding for NSF. Research!America has signed on to a letter making the public health case for gun violence-related policy changes, including explicit removal of restrictions on gun violence prevention research at the CDC.  Removing these restrictions is long overdue. 

It’s been almost a year since the House passed the 21st Century Cures Act (H.R. 6) by an overwhelming, bipartisan majority (344-77). The Senate has been hard at work on their companion measure, with 19 discrete bills now agreed upon. Last week, Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) penned a thoughtful blog in The Hill, saying “...the 21st Cures Act offers a welcome opportunity for consensus [in the Senate]. We will succeed because we know that there never has been a moment when our actions might so profoundly improve the health of virtually every American.” Our public opinion surveys show that a majority of Americans want Congress to advance policies that spur medical progress; a new poll from the Galen Institute and Center Forward reinforces our findings, with a special emphasis on the public’s high expectations and support for collaboration and public-private partnerships. STAT News reports that congressional staff and advocates alike are hopeful that consensus will be reached next month. However, this won’t happen if everyone just assumes it will; please take a moment to send a quick message (via email or tweet to your Senators urging them to support Cures, now.

As the presidential campaign heats up (hard to believe it can get hotter, but we all know it will!) you might be wondering what the frontrunners think about science, research, and technology. This Brookings blog post has a short background summary, not all good news. Our surveys reinforce the news -- the candidates aren’t talking much about science. They will, if enough voters ask them to!  As part of our voter education initiative, Campaign for Cures, I testified last Friday before the Democratic Platform Committee. We are working the traps to assure we can address the Republican Platform Committee as well.

Last week, Bill Gates -- a visionary supporter of research and global health -- addressed the the American Society of Microbiology, a founding member of Research!America. For a glimpse into his thinking on the role of philanthropy in research, the challenges and opportunities presented by the cancer moonshot, eradicating polio and more, see this excellent interview.

Finally -- Research!America is moving closer to D.C. After 27 years in Old Town Alexandria, we are relocating to Arlington -- Crystal City, to be exact -- right above the Metro and one stop from the airport. Our phone numbers remain the same. The new address is: 241 18th Street South, Suite 501, Arlington, VA 22202. I invite you to come visit! 

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You can change the image of things to come. But you can’t do it sitting on your hands … The science community should reach out to Congress and build bridges.
The Honorable John E. Porter