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 Hill's Morning Report — Dems detail case to remove Trump for abuse of power Senate Republicans confident they'll win fight on witnesses Administration to give Senate briefing on coronavirus 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 McConnellCNN's Axelrod says impeachment didn't come up until 80 minutes into focus group Democrats feel political momentum swinging to them on impeachment Impeachment throws curveball in Iowa to sidelined senators 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 MurrayOvernight Health Care: Trump becomes first sitting president to attend March for Life | Officials confirm second US case of coronavirus | Trump officials threaten California funding over abortion law Top health officials brief senators on coronavirus as infections spread Administration to give Senate briefing on coronavirus 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 HatchKey Republicans say Biden can break Washington gridlock Trump awards Medal of Freedom to racing industry icon Roger Penske Trump holds more Medal of Freedom ceremonies than predecessors but awards fewer medals 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 BurrMarsha Blackburn shares what book she's reading during Trump Senate trial GOP senator provides fidget spinners to Senate colleagues at lunch Juan Williams: Counting the votes to remove Trump 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.