Opinion

The Century Cures Act Is A Needless Waste

Neil Siefring Vice President, Hilltop Advocacy

House leadership may bring H.R. 6, the 21st Century Cures Act, to the floor after next week’s House recess. The bill doesn’t cure a thing, except, perhaps momentarily, the appetite of the federal leviathan to grow. H.R. 6 deepens the federal government’s involvement in medicine, a role that the Founding Fathers wisely left to the states and the people through the Tenth Amendment.  The legislation is well-intentioned, but turns federalism on its head and spends a massive amount of money with dubious offsets.

H.R. 6 is a 309 page bill that attempts to accomplish quite a bit. The bill’s goals include promoting personalized medicine, improving the clinical trials process, making the regulatory path clearer for medical apps, creating economic incentives for the development of drugs for rare diseases, improving, “the entire biomedical ecosystem ensuring the innovation infrastructure works as quickly and efficiently as possible.”

Oh, it is also a “jobs bill.” Somewhere in the closely held Republican Establishment Messaging Handbook, there must be an entire chapter devoted to messaging legislation that violates the principles of federalism as creating jobs. The oft-repeated talking point that a bill will “create American jobs,” ignores, intentionally or not, that the federal government’s role is not to create jobs, but rather to promote liberty. When Republicans claim that a bill is about creating jobs, read the fine print. It usually means your tax money gets wasted.

The Energy and Commerce Committee, initiated the bill and passed it by a vote of 51-0. The chairman of the committee, Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI) and Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO) explained in an opinion piece in The Denver Post that the bill would “deliver $10 billion in important new resources for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) over the next five years. After years of stagnant funding and cuts, we will reinvigorate our flagship medical research agency so that our brightest minds can make the next great discoveries in medicine.”

“Our brightest minds” shouldn’t have to depend on the largesse of the federal government to “make the next greatest discoveries in medicine.” Brainpower shouldn’t be shackled to legislative willpower. The Founders understood this when it gave the federal government no role in play in what this legislation purports to do.

The $10 billion will be used to set up a new program called an Innovation Fund of $10 billion over 5 years “to invest more resources in the next generation of scientists for the next generation of drugs.” More money for the federal government to do something it isn’t supposed to do, no matter how noble the end goal may be. And the money would be mandatory — that is, it won’t count toward the budget caps to keep federal spending reigned in.

Creating new mandatory spending isn’t the way to reform federal spending. The bill takes National Institutes of Health, which is discretionary spending, and creates a mandatory component of NIH funding through the new Innovation Fund.

Our government is $18 trillion dollars in debt, and a Republican chairman of a major committee has joined forces with Democrats to keep the federal government involved in health care issues contra the Constitution.  Since the United States is in such deep debt, how does the committee plan to pay for the extra-constitutional detour?

The bill is paid for, allegedly, by shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic and having a federal garage sale. First, some funds will be freed to pay for H.R. 6 by delaying payments to Medicare Part D, a government bureaucracy rife with fraud, thus making an already poorly designed program even worse off. Additional funds will be found for H.R. 6 by selling “8 million barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) in each of the fiscal years 2018 through 2025.” That oil is in reserve for an “energy emergency“, not for funding messaging bills by a House leadership trying to triangulate Democrats on health care policy.

The fact that legislators have to look under these couch pillows for cash demonstrates the vastness of their spending problem. If you leave these issues to the states and the private sector, where they belong, you can leave the couch pillows undisturbed.

Neil Siefring is president of Hilltop Advocacy, LLC, and a former Republican House staffer.  Follow him on Twitter @NeilSiefring