21st Century Cures Becomes Law

Before the 114th Congress headed home for the holidays, lawmakers passed the 21st Century Cures Act (H.R. 34) with overwhelming bipartisan support. The House of Representatives passed the medical innovation package by a vote of 392-26 on November 30 and the U.S. Senate passed the bill on December 7 with a vote of 94-5. Those not supporting the package cited either concerns that the bill was a windfall for pharmaceutical manufacturers and did not address drug pricing issues or concerns over the cost of the legislation. The final package contains a total of $6.3 billion in spending. This includes $4.8 billion in funding over 10 years for the National Institutes of Health (NIH). While the funding is not mandatory, the Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund the government through April 28 included $872 million to fund Cures for the first year. Vice President Joe Biden, who serves as president of the Senate, presided over the Senate during a key procedural vote to advance the legislation to passage. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) surprised Vice President Biden by offering an amendment to rename the cancer title of the legislation in honor of Beau Biden, the Vice President’s son who passed away last year due to brain cancer.

CDC Releases Self-Assessment

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a self-assessment of the agency’s work to address certain public health issues, finding that while they have see some clear success, other problems have seen little change or have continued to worsen. The CDC has made improvements in areas like smoking and teen pregnancy. Less progress has been seen in the areas of obesity, food poisoning, childhood obesity, HIV and hospital-acquired infections (HAIs). This is the third and final report card on this administration’s campaign of priorities set in 2009. The targets – known as “Winnable Battles” – were all viewed as areas in which significant progress was possible.

Committee Assignments Will Wait Until January

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) announced his decision that the House GOP will not receive their committee assignments until after Congress returns in January. The 30-member Steering Committee – headed by Ryan and comprised mostly of House GOP leadership and regional representatives – is responsible for making committee assignments. The Steering Committee voted on committee chairmen two weeks ago, and was expected to vote on committee membership last week, before Congress headed home.

House Democrats Expand Leadership Team

Like their Senate colleagues, House Democrats voted to expand their leadership team last week, in order to increase the influence of younger and more diverse members of the party. Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-Calif.) was chosen to fill a new leadership position that will be reserved for a lawmaker who has served five terms or less. He beat Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) and Del. Stacey Plaskett (D-V.I.) in the vote for the position. The leadership of the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee, which was previously headed by a single chairman – the outgoing Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) – will now be lead by three co-chairs: Reps. Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.), Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), and David Cicilline (D-R.I.) Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.), Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) and John Delaney (D-Md.) had also vied for one of the Policy and Communications Committee posts. Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) was chosen to serve another term as Chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Final Senate Race Decided

Republicans will hold a 52-seat majority in the Senate for the 115th Congress, following the victory of John Kennedy (R) over Foster Campbell (D) in the run-off race to replace retiring Sen. David Vitter (R-La.). Kennedy previously served as Louisiana’s state treasurer. He had previously run unsuccessfully for the Senate on two occasions. Republicans held a 54-seat majority in the Senate for the 114th Congress.

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