House passes pediatric research bill, Cantor priority

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The House on Wednesday approved legislation that would boost funding for research into pediatric diseases, a bill that was made a priority in recent weeks by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.).

Members passed the Gabriella Miller Kids First Research Act, H.R. 2019, in a 295-103 vote. While that's a clear majority, House Republicans brought the bill up under a suspension of House rules, which means a two-thirds majority was needed.

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That meant the bill needed about 56 Democrats to pass, if all members voted. In the end, 72 Democrats supported the bill, more than what was needed given that a few dozen Democrats were out today for Nelson Mandela's memorial services.

Most Democrats — 102 of them — rejected the bill as a weak attempt to restore a small amount of the spending cuts the GOP has already foisted upon the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

"It is a disingenuous and empty attempt by the Republicans to divert attention from the fact that they have voted to cut research time and time again," said Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.).

The bill would take $126 million in money that is now meant to fund presidential nominating conventions. It would spread that money out over 10 years.

But Democrats who voted against it argued that Republicans are responsible for $1.5 billion in cuts to the NIH, and that the bill does not represent a real attempt to restore funding.

"That's why I think the Republicans are not making a sincere effort to support NIH research," Pallone said. "This is a joke."

Other Democrats called the bill a "sham," "window dressing" and a "ruse."

Republicans, and one Democrat who supported the bill, said that while the bill would not restore all funding to NIH research, it makes a good decision on how to spend limited federal funds. Cantor rejected Democratic arguments that the bill should fail just because it doesn't do more.

"Let's not let Washington politics get in the way of any effort to help these kids," he said. "This bill is a choice between allocating monies for political conventions or pediatric medical research."

The legislation is named after a Virginia girl who died in October after being diagnosed with an inoperable, cancerous brain tumor. The Miller family was sitting in the gallery, and watched the debate and the final vote.

"I want to thank them for their courage in being here," Cantor said during his remarks.

Cantor's arguments were mirrored by Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.), a co-sponsor of the bill. "What we have in my view with this bill is an opportunity to lay down the battle axes for just a moment and take a step forward," he said.

Some opponents argued that the bill only authorizes $12.6 million per year in new funding for the NIH, but doesn't appropriate that money. Several, including Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), said that makes this bill a symbolic gesture at best.

"Paper will not help pediatric research," Hoyer said. "Money will. Investment will. To that extent, this is not real, it is a message."

But Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) read the text of the bill twice during the debate, noting that it says the funds "shall" be taken from funding for political conventions.

While Democrats also charged Republicans with pushing the sequester cuts that lead to the NIH cuts, Republicans shot back that dozens of Democrats also supported the sequester.