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.