Biden meets with lawmakers behind medical bills

Vice President Biden met with a bipartisan group of lawmakers on Wednesday to discuss a medical innovation bill that could be the path to funding for his “moonshot” to cure cancer.

Biden met with House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.), ranking member Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) and Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), who are the leaders of the House’s 21st Century Cures effort. 

Also at the meeting were Senate Health Committee Chairman Lamar AlexanderLamar AlexanderObama meets a crossroads for his healthcare law Music streamer Spotify joins Gillibrand’s push for paid family leave GOP senators avoid Trump questions on rigged election MORE (R-Tenn.) and ranking member Patty MurrayPatty MurrayWhat the 'Bernie Sanders wing of the GOP' can teach Congress Senate Dems demand answers from Wells Fargo over treatment of military A fight for new rights MORE (D-Wash.). 

Alexander and Murray are currently negotiating a companion to the House-passed 21st Century Cures bill. The Senate bill is expected to include new funding for medical research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), as the House bill also did, some of which could go toward Biden's initiative.

“Today’s meeting with Vice President Biden and Senate leaders was positive and productive. The #Path2Cures connects both the White House and U.S. Capitol, and we welcome the vice president’s enthusiastic participation in this bipartisan effort,” Upton, Pallone and DeGette said in a joint statement.

The House passed its bill in July, but the Senate effort is taking longer than expected. Lawmakers are hoping to use the push for a cancer cure, along with President Obama’s “precision medicine” initiative to individualize treatments, to jumpstart the Senate effort.

“We are seeing a tremendous opportunity for Cures, with our legislative efforts coupled with the ‘moonshot’ and the administration’s Precision Medicine Initiative, there is no question that 21st Century Cures is the right vehicle to get this done,” the lawmakers added. “We will all continue working together — House, Senate and White House — until we are successful in delivering #CuresNow for patients across America.” 

Alexander and Murray are still negotiating how much new mandatory NIH funding to provide and, crucially, how to pay for it. Senate Democrats are pushing for $5 billion per year, but the White House has declined to weigh in publicly on how much it is looking for. 

Senators are hoping for a deal on NIH funding around the time of an April 6 committee markup on related bills. 

Despite Senate Republican divisions on the question of mandatory NIH funding, Alexander is pushing for a deal. 

“I do not know of another way this year to get support for the president’s Precision Medicine Initiative or support for the cancer moonshot or a surge for mandatory funding for the National Institutes of Health unless we act on this bill,” Alexander said earlier this month.