Win or Lose

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I believe down to my toes that America needs to double down on medical research. Research on cancer, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, ALS, and other diseases will help people live longer, fuller lives. And, in the long run, it will save huge amounts of money.

But since the early 2000s, Congress has been choking off funding for basic medical research. Adjusted for inflation, spending on medical research is down 20% over the past dozen years. Since I arrived in the Senate, I’ve fought for every possible opportunity to increase our research budgets – NIH, NSF, FDA and even military authorizations.

The 21st Century Cures Act was supposed to be about funding research for medical breakthroughs. But that’s not the bill the Senate passed this week.  

First, some good news: The 21st Century Cures Act that went to the President’s desk includes really good, bipartisan pieces, including several that I’ve spent months and years working to write and then pass. My sections included:

  • Building on Senator Ted Kennedy’s work to protect patient’s genetic privacy
  • Supporting development of genetically-targeted therapies for people with rare diseases
  • Making sure women and minorities don’t keep getting left out of clinical trials
  • Reducing administrative burdens at NIH so federal research money is spent more efficiently.

And this bill finally – finally – puts some federal money into opioid treatment and improves access for mental health issues. I am glad – thrilled – that these and many other good provisions will become law. But I’m deeply disappointed by the high price we paid for the Republicans to pass this bill.

Republicans decided the only way they’d pass these good, bipartisan policies was if they also got a bunch of giveaways to the giant drug companies. Earlier versions that would have helped bring down the cost of prescription drugs were stripped out. And, as part of the final deal, Republicans broke their promise to substantially boost NIH and opioid crisis funding. In fact, most of the money promised in this bill will never materialize unless the Republican-controlled Congress passes future bills to spend it (and if they can’t get the votes to fund it now, no one can explain how they will get the votes to fund it next year or the year after).

I asked for your help to fight back against the 21st Century Cures Act, so I wanted you to know that fighting back paid off. With public attention, we changed a terrible provision in this bill that would have allowed Donald Trump to have complete control over how the opioid money would be spent. If Trump had wanted to punish states with terrible opioid epidemics that didn’t vote for him – like Massachusetts and New Hampshire – he could have denied us what little opioid crisis funding was in this bill. Thanks to your help, all states should now receive their fair share. That makes a real difference.

We also fought back and got a ridiculous provision removed that would have let drug companies hide the money, gifts and other kickbacks they give to doctors and hospitals for using their drugs. Big Pharma isn’t happy that they won’t be able to cover up bribes like they had wanted.   

We fixed some of the bad stuff – but I believed the final bill still wasn’t up to the standards we should expect from Congress. So I did what I said I would do and voted no. I did so knowing that I’m going to keep coming to work every day to fight for more NIH and opioid funding, to repeal the lousy giveaways in this bill, and to protect and strengthen the many good policies that I support in this bill.

No, the final vote on the Cures Act didn’t go the way I hoped it would. We couldn’t completely stop Big Pharma from hijacking this bill. But we did make the bill a heck of a lot better. And we pointed out the problems and refused to let people in Congress politely ignore them.  

The way I see it, the American people didn’t send us to Washington to roll over and play dead. We aren’t here to work for the Big Pharma, Big Oil, Wall Street, or giant corporations – we’re here to fight for working people. Win or lose, that’s what we’re going to do. 

Is this some sort of sick joke?

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Zika is a public health emergency, and Congress should be doing everything in its power to fight the disease right now.



But Congress has gone on recess. The Republican leadership won’t lift a finger. Instead, they have no plans to call us back to work before Labor Day – no chance to give our doctors, scientists, and public health officials the funding they need.



Each day that the Republicans stall, more and more people get sick from Zika. More babies risk being born with heartbreaking head deformities. More adults risk contracting an autoimmune disease that attacks the nervous system.



Tell Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell: We cannot wait any longer to protect Americans’ health. Bring Congress back to pass a clean bill to fund our country’s Zika response.



The Republican response to the Zika outbreak has been so unbelievable, it almost sounds like the plot of a movie. (A really, really bad movie.)



Back in February, President Obama requested that Congress approve $1.9 billion in emergency Zika funding. That’s the number that doctors, scientists and public health officials said they needed to fight the virus.



For months, the Republicans dragged their feet – until the night in June that House Democrats held their all-night sit-in for a vote on gun violence legislation. At 3:00 AM, while most people were sleeping, Speaker Ryan and the House Republicans jammed through a Zika funding bill – but one loaded with poison pills that he knew would never be passed into law.



Ryan pushed a pathetic, dishonest and flat-out malicious Zika bill:   

  • The GOP Zika bill would have stolen money from the Ebola response fund, even though we still have 75 Centers for Disease Control staff members on the ground fighting the Ebola outbreak.
  • The GOP Zika bill would have gutted the health care exchanges in the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).
  • The GOP Zika bill would have blocked Planned Parenthood from receiving birth control grant money.
  • The GOP Zika bill would have rolled back Clean Water Act requirements designed to keep pesticides out of Americans’ drinking water.
  • The GOP Zika bill would have cut Senate levels of Department of Veterans Affairs funding by $500 million – money for VA hospital maintenance and raises for VA doctors and nurses.
  • And get this: the GOP Zika bill even would have reversed a law that bans the Confederate flag from flying at veterans cemeteries.  

I didn’t think that the Republicans could write one bill to hurt women, veterans, Obamacare, Planned Parenthood, AND clean water all at once – while making it easier for racists to fly their flag – but they did it. And when Senate Democrats refused to pass such a sickening bill, the Republicans pointed fingers and said it’s the Democrats’ fault for refusing to compromise.



Last week, a Kentucky reporter asked Republican Leader Mitch McConnell why he wouldn’t just pass a clean bill to fund our country’s Zika response. McConnell said that’s just the way things are done in Washington.



Well that may be the Republican way of doing things in Washington – but that’s not OUR way.



Senate Democrats are ready to return to Washington to pass a Zika funding bill – but we need to turn up the pressure on the Republican majority to make it happen. Join us now and tell the Republicans to stop playing games with Americans’ health.

Our new bill to fight Hobby Lobby

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I was stunned by last week's Hobby Lobby ruling.

Stunned that we live in a world where the Supreme Court of the United States of America would even consider putting the interests of big corporations before the fundamental rights of American women.

Stunned that the Court would establish precedent for one enormous slippery slope on letting employers deny individuals health coverage for any medical treatment.

Today, my Democratic colleagues and I are fighting to do what the Supreme Court failed to do: to protect the basic rights of American women and families.

Led by Senators Patty Murray and Mark Udall, we've just introduced a new bill – the Protect Women's Health from Corporate Interference Act. The bill reverses the Supreme Court's decision by making it clear that employers cannot deny access to any of the health benefits required by the ACA – not immunizations, not blood transfusions, not HIV treatments, and not birth control – while preserving reasonable accommodations for religiously exempt employers.

If we're going to respond to Hobby Lobby, it's got to be through a legislative fix. And if the Republicans won't fight for the women they represent, then we're going to take that fight to them. Let them explain why they think employers should decide what health care a woman can get covered by her insurance .

Sign up now to show your support for the Protect Women's Health from Corporate Interference Act.

I cannot believe that in 2014 I have to send you an email about protecting access to birth control. We've got a lot of other big problems in our country to tackle right now.  

Millions of people still haven't recovered from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. More and more young people are drowning in student debt. Too many workers are struggling to stay out of poverty on a minimum wage, and millions of others are struggling to save for retirement. Seniors keep getting told they're going to have to get by on less.

But the Republican Party has made it clear: They want to spend their time working to deny women access to birth control and punch as many holes in the Affordable Care Act as they can.

Just look at the facts:

  • In 2012, Republicans tried to pass the Blunt Amendment – legislation that would allow employers and insurance companies to deny women's health care services – even birth control – based on any vague moral objection.
  • When the Blunt Amendment failed, the Republicans resorted to hostage-taking. Remember last year's government shutdown that nearly tanked our economy? That all started with a GOP threat to get Democrats to change the law so employers could deny coverage for birth control.

When Democrats wouldn't cave and the government shutdown backfired, the Republicans turned to their conservative friends on the United States Supreme Court – five justices who are among the top ten most pro-corporate justices to serve in the last half-century – to do what Congress and the American people would not: give corporations rights to determine women's access to health care coverage.

We cannot stand by while the radical right of our country conducts a full-scale assault on women's rights and basic health care.

Help us fight back against the Hobby Lobby ruling. Sign up now to show your support for the Protect Women's Health from Corporate Interference Act.

This is 2014, not 1914 – and we've had enough.

Tomorrow I'll bake a cake

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I'm going to have to put off baking my Valentine's Day cake until I can get back home on Friday. I have my heart-shaped pans, but the oven is broken in my new Washington apartment. Even so, I'm not letting the day pass without asking everyone for a favor.

My mother was born on Valentine's Day. From the time she turned fifteen, my father gave her a heart-shaped box of chocolates, and from the time I was nine and bought some heart-shaped pans at the dime store, I baked her a cake. Mother loved the heart connection to her birthday.

Several years ago, the heart connection took on a new meaning. My mother was in good health. She went to the doctor regularly, and, except for some concern about high cholesterol and a few complaints about gas pains and arthritis, she always got a good report. When she had some minor surgery, all the kids and grandkids came to visit. She was doing great, ready to check out of the hospital the next morning. So after a few more turns racing her up and down the hallway in wheelchairs, we all headed home.

In the middle of the night, one of my brothers called. He said Mama was dead. I couldn't believe it. I thought he had made some kind of terrible mistake. He said Daddy had been sitting with her when she leaned forward and said, "Don, there's that gas pain again." Then she died.

The autopsy showed that she had advanced heart disease. No one had any inkling.

This year more women than men will die from heart disease. In fact, every minute, a woman dies from heart disease. And the symptoms for women aren't always the same as for men. As I learned when the doctor called to explain how she died, heart disease can easily be overlooked for women.

So enjoy Valentine's Day and all the hearts, but here's my ask: Today please ask a woman you love to learn more about heart disease. Learn the symptoms. Learn the risks. Learn prevention. Please don't wait.

Tomorrow I'll bake a cake. I'll open up the box that has some of the old valentines my daddy gave to my mother. And I'll ask the women I love to take better care of themselves.

Happy Valentine's Day!

What Republicans want to take away

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Elizabeth had an op-ed printed in the MetroWest Daily News today, explaining why it's so important for Massachusetts residents to keep the Affordable Care Act (also known as "Obamacare").

She wrote:

The Affordable Care Act is already helping families in the Commonwealth. Together, these reforms make families safer. Better health care coverage means more people will get preventive care — and that means catching serious problems earlier when outcomes are better and treatments are cheaper. Better health care coverage also means that when someone receives a bad diagnosis, the family won’t be crushed financially. And helping small businesses pay for health care premiums also means that they can compete against bigger businesses on a more level playing field.

Scott Brown: "Obamacare is bad law"

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Scott Brown doesn't spend a lot of time talking about the issues.

But he is very clear on one position: Scott Brown wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

When Scott Brown ran in the special election in 2010, he promised to be the 41st vote against health care reform. And he's still promising to repeal it.

Take a look at his website:

Scott Brown -  "Repeal Obamacare"

The Affordable Care Act isn't about politics. It's about making sure people with cancer or heart disease can get health insurance. It's about stopping discrimination against women and people with pre-existing conditions. It's about ending lifetime insurance caps, and closing the donut hole for seniors' prescription drugs.

Every American deserves access to quality, affordable health care.

So tell us, Senator Brown:

  • Why do you want to repeal a law that closes the donut hole so seniors can afford prescription drugs?
  • Why do you want to repeal a law that lets young people stay on their parents' insurance until age 26?
  • Why do you want to repeal a law that gives tax breaks to small businesses who provide health care to their employees?
  • And why do you want to repeal a law that prevents insurance companies from discriminating against women?

Massachusetts led the way in health reform, and we will continue to lead to reduce health care costs and ensure a level playing field for middle class families -- whether Scott Brown likes it or not.