What’s Happening in Congress
Congress returned from summer recess this week and has only a few weeks left to finish their work before they break before the election. The House is in session until Sept. 30, and the Senate session ends on Oct. 7. They have two big things they need to accomplish before they leave:
1) The Budget
The budget for the U.S. government expires on Sept. 30, 2016. If Congress does not act before then by either passing a Continuous Resolution (CR) to extend the current budget, or by passing a new budget, the government will shut down on Oct. 1.
It’s likely that Congress will simply pass a CR. There is disagreement, though, on how long to extend the current budget. While many want a CR that would extend until after the election so a new budget could be written in November, the Tea Party does not want the “lame duck” Congress to vote on a new budget. Instead, they are pushing for a CR through March—which would mean the next budget vote would be at the same time as the vote to raise the debt ceiling. This drastically increases the probability of a government shut down early next year when the long-term CR and the debt ceiling would both expire.
The other concern is that some members may try to attach controversial “policy riders” to the budget, such as defunding Planned Parenthood, or restricting the EPAs ability to enforce rules around lead exposure. These riders make passing a budget, already the source of controversy and compromise, even more difficult.
Congress should do their job and pass a real budget before the end of the year. The Prevent Cancer Foundation supports a short term CR through November with no controversial policy riders. We need to avoid a government shutdown, and agencies deserve to know their funding levels as soon as possible so that they can operate efficiently.
2) 21st Century Cures
The Senate still has not voted on their version of the 21st Century Cures Act, although it is almost complete. If it does not pass by the end of the year, both the House and the Senate will need to start from scratch when the new Congress is seated in January. The biggest hold up is funding. The House bill included an increase of $9 billion for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and $500 million more for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) over the next five years. These increases are necessary for the 21st Century Cures Act to be able to modernize the NIH and FDA as it sets out to do. 21st Century Cures will speed up approval times for certain drugs, provide incentives for new research, and create new requirements for the NIH and FDA-but that cannot be accomplished without additional funding.
The Senate has been reluctant to increase funding for the NIH and the FDA without offsetting the money by making cuts elsewhere. In a troubling development, during the summer some Senators suggested taking the money from the Prevention and Public Health Fund. The Prevention and Public Health Fund distributes community grants to pay for programs that provide health education and preventive services, including cancer screening. Taking from one crucial health program to fund another would be counterproductive.
We want to see 21st Century Cures come up for a vote in the Senate, and we want new funding for the NIH and FDA to accomplish the goals set forth in the legislation. Take action today and tell Congress how important it is to pass this legislation.
Congress has just one month to reach an agreement to keep the government open, and for the Senate to complete their work on a bill that is two years in the making. We’ll be following Congress closely during September. To stay up-to-date on what’s happening, and find out when you need to take action, join our advocacy team.