House Republicans will call up legislation next week that forces Democrats to choose between funding research for pediatric diseases or continuing the taxpayer funding of political party conventions.
The legislation risks being voted down on the House floor, since the GOP is calling it up in a way that will need Democratic votes to pass, and many Democrats are expected to reject what they see as a paltry attempt to restore medical research funding.
The legislation also includes language that would eliminate the taxpayer financing of party conventions. It would take $126 million in funds that would otherwise go toward party conventions and use it to fund pediatric research over the next 10 years through the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
The sponsor of the bill, Rep. Gregg Harper (R-Miss.), noted that in 2012, each party received about $18 million for its convention. Harper says some of this money is catering costs, and says the money would be better spent on research, including clinical trials for new therapies.
"Completing these trials could affect millions of our friends and neighbors," Harper said earlier this year when he introduced his bill. "New discoveries will lead to improved diagnostics. A more timely diagnosis means more effective treatments."
Harper's bill has 10 Democratic co-sponsors, but most Democrats are expected to oppose the bill. Many will likely argue that the bill is a meager attempt to restore funding cuts to the NIH that the GOP has supported.
"This bill is a farce and an obvious attempt to cover up the GOP's failing record to adequately fund the NIH, and Democrats won't support it," a Democratic leadership aide told The Hill. "Since Republicans took the majority, they’ve cut NIH funding by $4.2 billion, and the Ryan budget slashed funding for the Labor-HHS-Education subcommittee by 22 percent, which would cost NIH $6.7 billon.
"This is not a genuine attempt to invest in NIH, and Republicans know that."
Democratic opposition means the bill risks failure in the House next week, since Republicans have set it up as a suspension bill. That means a two-thirds majority vote will be required for it to pass — if everyone is present, 56 Democrats would be needed for passage.
However, the House did pass legislation in the last Congress to eliminate party convention funding, and that bill passed with 85 Democratic votes.
An earlier version of Harper's bill included language that would end taxpayer financing of presidential election campaigns and the ability of people to donate $3 of their tax liability to the Presidential Election Campaign Fund.
The House passed a bill achieving this goal in 2011 and won over just 10 Democrats. At the time, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said ending the public financing option would give companies a stronger voice in presidential elections, and other Democrats argued that Congress should be looking to increase public financing for campaigns.