Alexander: Cures bill deal could be reached by end of the week

Alexander: Cures bill deal could be reached by end of the week
© Getty Images

Sen. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderThe 25 Republicans who defied Trump on emergency declaration Trump issues first veto, warning of 'reckless' resolution Overnight Defense: Senate rejects border emergency in rebuke to Trump | Acting Pentagon chief grilled on wall funding | Warren confronts chief over war fund budget MORE (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said Monday that a medical innovation bill could be ready for the Senate floor as early as next week. 

ADVERTISEMENT

The bill is the Senate’s companion to the House-passed 21st Century Cures Act, which seeks to speed up the Food and Drug Administration’s approvals of new drugs and devices and boost funding for medical research. 

“The House has passed it with a big vote, the president's interested in it, and we're nearly through with our work, so let's put it this way: I think it's likely to be ready for the floor by the end of the week, or shortly thereafter,” Alexander told The Hill. “Whether it comes to the floor is up to the majority leader.” 

The main obstacle to a deal has been finding a way to pay for new mandatory funding for medical research at the National Institutes of Health, which Democrats have made a dealbreaker.

Negotiators are still working out funding related issues, so nothing is certain and a deal is not yet in hand. The bill is already months behind its original schedule.  

The health committee has its last in a series of markups scheduled for Wednesday on other parts of the package, where it will consider the final batch of a range of FDA reform bills. 

Asked if a deal on NIH funding could come by the end of the week, Alexander said, “Possible, but we’ll see.”

"We're moving along. We haven't come to an agreement yet, but Senator McConnell has told me that if a bill is important, affects a lot of people, and the president will sign it, that he'll put it on the floor, and I can't think of a better candidate than this one,” Alexander said, referring to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellRepublicans up for reelection fear daylight with Trump Overnight Energy: Students around globe demand climate action | EPA bans consumer sales of deadly chemical in paint strippers | Green New Deal set for Senate vote The Hill's Morning Report — Trump readies first veto after latest clash with Senate GOP MORE (R-Ky.). 

Alexander has given some hopeful signs to Democrats about his openness to mandatory funding, which he wants to be targeted to specific initiatives such as Vice President Biden’s “moonshot” to cure cancer and President Obama’s “precision medicine” initiative for individualizing treatments. 

Alexander said he is working with the ranking member, Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayJury orders Johnson & Johnson to pay M to woman who claimed baby powder gave her cancer Overnight Health Care - Presented by Kidney Care Partners - FDA chief Scott Gottlieb resigns | House Dems to take up drug pricing bills next week | Planned Parenthood, doctors group sue over Trump abortion rule Insurance group urges Congress to boost ObamaCare subsidies MORE (D-Wash.), as well as the administration. Because funding offsets are likely to come from outside the health committee’s jurisdiction, Alexander said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchNY's political prosecution of Manafort should scare us all Congress must break its addiction to unjust tax extenders The FDA crackdown on dietary supplements is inadequate MORE (R-Utah) is also involved. 

Negotiators have not yet settled on a dollar amount for the NIH funding, but Alexander indicated it could be close to the roughly $9 billion over five years that was in the House bill. 

“The House was at $9 billion,” Alexander said. “We haven't agreed on a number, but I think what we need to recognize is we have to approve something that the House will pass and the president will sign.”

Alexander, Murray and leaders of the House’s bill met with Biden last month to discuss the legislative effort and how it could provide funding for the cancer moonshot. 

The Senate has had slower going since the House passed its bill in July. 

Not all Senate Republicans are on board with the idea of mandatory NIH funding, which gets around the annual appropriations process. 

Sen. Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrGOP's Tillis comes under pressure for taking on Trump Warner says there are 'enormous amounts of evidence' suggesting Russia collusion McCarthy dismisses Democrat's plans: 'Show me where the president did anything to be impeached' MORE (R-N.C.), another member of the health committee, told The Hill last month that he opposes mandatory funding. 

Alexander has said he wants to simply put the bill on the floor and give it a vote as a way of settling these disputes.