‘Cures’ Package Not Unanimously Backed by Democrats, Pelosi Says

NIH funding aimed at bringing some lawmakers on board

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., signaled disagreements exist among Democrats over the 21st Century Cures biomedical research package. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., signaled disagreements exist among Democrats over the 21st Century Cures biomedical research package. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted October 19, 2016 at 2:55pm

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told reporters Wednesday that she stands ready to help pass the 21st Century Cures bill in the lame-duck session but “that’s not a universal view” among House Democrats.

“Some people don’t have the same support for it, so we’re just going to have to build consensus,” the California Democrat said.

Still, Pelosi predicted a positive outcome for the bill, which Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., have both said they want to pass before the end of the year.

“If leadership takes it up I think it will pass,” Pelosi said.

A version of the package of biomedical innovation bills passed the House last year 344-77. Opposition to that legislation came mostly from Republicans, who did not support the $8.75 billion in mandatory funding for the National Institutes of Health included in the bill.

A new version of the legislation, which Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., said would be released in November, is still likely to include funding for NIH in order to bring Democrats on board. The amount, however, will likely be lower, according to aides and lobbyists, and the decrease in mandatory funding for the agency could be balanced with funding to address the overuse of opioids or Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s cancer moonshot initiative, among other things.

But the inclusion of any mandatory funding is likely to continue to prevent some Republicans from supporting the underlying legislation. The conservative group Heritage Action opposed the bill during its initial passage, and a spokesman for the group previously told CQ Roll Call it would continue to oppose the legislation if it includes such funding.

[Breaking Down the 21st Century Cures Act Vote]

The package puts Ryan in a difficult spot, lobbyists and aides say. While he has expressed support for the bill, Ryan risks further angering a faction of Republicans, like the Freedom Caucus, whose support may be necessary in the upcoming House leadership elections.

Speaking to a group of pharmaceutical executives in Boston earlier this month, Ryan expressed concerns about putting a Cures bill on the floor that includes mandatory funding. But he said he would let Upton and Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., work that aspect out, according to individuals with knowledge of the discussion.

A spokeswoman for Ryan did not respond to requests for comments.

Pelosi, during her press conference, also continued her election-year hammering of Republicans for supporting the Ryan budget that would remove the guarantee for Medicare.

“This is a very drastic unraveling of one of the great pillars of economic and health security for American seniors who benefit from Medicare,” she said.