House Majority Leader Eric Cantor is calling for medical research to gain precedence over some other issues, as Congress tries to balance competing priorities with limited dollars.
The Virginia Republican has been highlighting the research issue, which remains largely free of the bitter politics surrounding the health care law, along with other policies designed to move the House GOP beyond fiscal concerns.
But Cantor also must reconcile his research funding goals with other key conservative priorities: cutting spending and limiting the size of government. And he is likely to face criticism from Democrats about GOP budget policies along the way.
In an interview, Cantor said his interest in medical research partly comes from watching his father suffer for more than a decade from a rare neurological disorder known as multiple system atrophy or Shy-Drager syndrome.
“They don’t have a lot of answers to it,” Cantor said of the disorder. “And he’s at the point where he’s very incapacitated, can’t walk, can’t talk, and has been that way for years.”
Cantor’s connection also extends to his wife, who found out in the same week that her father and her mother both had cancer. Her mother survived but her father did not. Finding cures to diseases would help preserve the quality of life for many Americans, Cantor said, and save on health care costs.
“Disease, unfortunately, is equal opportunity, if you can use that word,” he said. “I do think that as a priority, as a country that believes in innovation, you know, curing disease certainly is something that we should be about.”
To do that, he wants to shift more money to medical research. He discussed the idea in a February speech at the American Enterprise Institute and is expected to bring legislation to the House floor this month.
The bill (HR 2019), sponsored by Republicans Gregg Harper of Mississippi and Tom Cole of Oklahoma and Democrat Peter Welch of Vermont, would end taxpayer financing for presidential campaigns and conventions and authorize $13 million annually for pediatric research for 10 years. The measure would send a message to constituents and, if enacted, it would establish a policy that reflects lawmakers’ “commitment to cures and discovery,” Cantor said.
“What the bill does is simply says that federal dollars spent on political conventions is not nearly a priority for us and that, in fact, pediatric medical research is and should be a priority,” he said.