Conservatives: ‘CURES Act A Christmas Tree With Handouts For Special Interests’

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Kerry Picket Political Reporter
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WASHINGTON—House Republicans boasted about pushing through a nearly 1,000 page omnibus health care spending bill Wednesday night that passed overwhelmingly 392-26, but conservatives in Washington slammed the bill.

Heritage Action, a conservative D.C. based grassroots 501(c)(4) organization, scored against members who voted for the now revised 21st Century CURES Act (H.R. 34), legislation that was previously 300 pages when it first came up for a vote in the House earlier in the year.

The $6.3 billion legislation gives states $1 billion to fight the opioid epidemic. This is in addition to providing $4.8 billion for continuing three Obama administration research programs over the next decade

“The negotiators have added pieces of a mental health bill, makes changes to Medicare Part A and B, another bill making significant changes to the federal foster care system, a ‘cancer moonshot’ requested by Vice President Biden, additional funding for opioid abuse prevention, etc., in addition to the (National Institute of Health) funding and the (Food and Drug Administration) funding, for a grand total of over $6.3 billion dollars,” Heritage Action states.

Heritage continues, “In Washington terms, backroom negotiators have turned the Cures bill into a Christmas Tree, loaded with handouts for special interests, all at the expense of the taxpayer.  Therefore, conservatives should oppose the 21st Century Cures Bill for four main reasons.”

One of the reasons, Heritage says, is “the bill’s ‘pay-fors’ rely on budget gimmicks, and even worse, the new spending is not subject to the budget caps.” Another reason, noted by Heritage, that they consider to be “worse than the gimmicky offsets is the manipulation of the funding streams to avoid the Budget Control Act (BCA) Caps and true fiscal accountability”

“Second, NIH and FDA do not need additional funding. Instead, they need to spend the money they already have on critical research instead of wasteful projects,” Heritage said.

Members have debated the legislation among their own conferences and caucuses for three years and over 1400 lobbyists, on behalf of the pharmaceutical industry and medical device companies, visited Capitol Hill pressing for the bill’s passage.

Conservative members point out that such a bill will only be laden with spending projects in addition to being “gimmicky.”

“I’m concerned about spending. The pay fors look gimmicky as always but to suspend the budget gap for the spending, it’s the typical lame duck approach. We’ll just add some spending on and throw a bunch of things together and it passes by pretty wide margins,” outgoing Kansas Republican Rep. Tim Huelskamp told The Daily Caller.

“I plan on voting no. There are some very good things in there like the FDA Reforms. Every Republican voted for that. But the spending on there—the moonshot, the foster family all these other things are not paid for,” he said.

Huelskamp added, “Lame duck things, mental health reforms—there’s some good things in there. Some of the things are good things that are in there, but at the end of the day, it’s not paid for. You don’t pay for it by getting rid of Obamacare slush fund in two months.”

According to NBC News, these lobbyists representing 400 companies, universities and other organizations urged for or against a House version of a CURES bill this congressional cycle. It should be noted that the Cures Act received more lobbying than any of the over than 11,000 bills proposed in the Congress this session.

Additionally, NBC points out that it is also the second-most lobbied health care bill since 2011, after only the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015, which, revamped Medicare payments to healthcare providers.

Despite charges the the Republican conference is pushing through last minute lame duck spending bills that the conference cannot blame President Obama for, Republican leadership and others gushed over the bill.

“We are about to change the very way we do medical research and development in this country. With this bill, we are laying the groundwork for medical breakthroughs that will help countless Americans suffering from what today are considered incurable diseases, ” House Speaker Paul Ryan said in a statement Thursday morning. “We would not have gotten this far if it weren’t for the tireless leadership of Fred Upton. I join the many grateful patients and their families in offering him my deepest thanks.”

House Republican Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers praised the bill, saying that she and other members “listened to 100’s of researchers, doctors, nurses, patients. America can and should lead the world in medical innovation, but to do so our focus should be on life saving cures not just on treatments—21st century cures helped us get there. We’re proud to have supported a real plan to encourage scientific collaboration to find cures faster.”

House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, called the passage of the bill a “major win for all those Americans across the country who have been looking for a cure for major diseases like cancer like Alzheimer’s like Parkinson’s and so many others.”

“The proof is in the pudding–392 votes, but in reality virtually all of what we passed this afternoon already passed,” CURES bill’s sponsor, Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton told The Daily Caller when asked why Republicans are pushing a 998 page bill during the lame duck session, when the conference was likely to receive a more favorable piece legislation after Donald Trump was inaugurated.

Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Tim Murphy snapped at TheDC over the question saying the CURES Act should not be delayed again over a “technicality” when sick people are relying on the passage of the bill for funding medical research.

Republicans also argued that parts of the final bill were already passed on the floor as well as in committee previously, so members knew what they were voting for. However, the final 998-page consolidated package was not available to members until recently and some Republican members who voted for it, TheDC learned were not even too sure what was in it.

“Look, any bill that we have, you have to balance off the provisions that are in there with the basic bill that happens to be there and is the basic structure worth everything else that has been added on to it?” Utah Republican Rep. Rob Bishop told The DC Wednesday prior the vote when asked about pork handouts in the bill.

He added, “I can’t give you a direct answer right now because I actually haven’t looked at what they are define as pork. Sometimes what they define as pork is not what I would define as pork, so if you just say you’re opposed to pork the answer is obviously yeah I’d like to see what the specifics are and what Heritage is saying is pork first.”

Georgia Republican Rep. Rob Woodhall said Murphy’s bill language added pages to the final bill. “When we read it in rules, for example, the reason it’s so much longer this time is because it has all of Tim Murphy’s language in there on mental health. It’s substantially the same as the language we passed here with only two dissenting votes.”

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