Legislative News InBrief

April 2, 2007

Supplemental War Appropriations

Conferees will meet today to reconcile differences between the House and Senate passed versions of supplemental appropriations bills, which would provide war funding as well as significant funding for domestic programs including shortfalls in SCHIP.  Last week an agreement was reached on a $4.84 billion package of small-business tax breaks to accompany an increase in the minimum wage.  The tax package and increase in the minimum wage are expected to be included in the conference report.  However, there is still a great deal of uncertainty about how the troop withdrawal issue will be resolved.  The conference is expected to adopt the weaker, non-binding troop withdrawal language in the Senate version.  However, this may cause some Democrats in the House to vote against the report on the floor.  Moreover, if the report passes with troop withdrawal language the President has vowed to veto.  To a lesser extent, the President has also threatened a veto over the additional domestic spending in the bill.           


Autism Appropriations Hearing

The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Chaired by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), heald a hearing on funding addressing autism spectrum disorders on Tuesday.  Chairman Harkin said autism is "out of control" in the U.S., adding, "We've got to do something." Ranking Minority member Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) said that NIH has not funded autism research at the same level as research of other conditions. CDC Director Julie Gerberding, was among those who testified.  Gerberding said, "The profound lifelong impact of autism spectrum disorders, tremendous costs to the affected individuals and their families, the lack of known causes or cures and concerns about the increased rates of diagnosis all make autism spectrum disorders one of our urgent realities." In addition, Gerberding recommended against additional research into a causal link between thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative used in some vaccines, and autism because most pediatricians and scientists agree that no link exists. "I've been long aware about the worries about the safety of vaccine with respect to autism, but we really need to get past that," Gerberding said, adding, "One of the downsides of focusing on that association is that it closes off to looking at some of the more biologically tenable hypotheses".  National Institute of Mental Health Director Thomas Insel testified that efforts have begun to develop autism research priorities in anticipation of new funding for the Combating Autism Act. Bob Wright, co-founder of Autism Speaks, asked lawmakers to fully fund the CAA by appropriating $168 million to fund the law in FY08. West Wing actor and advocate, Bradley Whitford; Marguerite Colston, a parent and staff of the Autism Society of America (ASA); and Dr. Judith Favell, executive director of the Celeste Foundation, also testified. The subcommittee website has archived the full hearing as well as copies of all the testimony at http://appropriations.senate.gov/labor.cfm.


Expanding the Promise for Individuals with Autism Act

Reps. Mike Doyle (D-PA) and Christopher Smith (R-NJ) on Tuesday introduced a companion bill (HR 1881) to the Expanding the Promise for Individuals with Autism Act (S 937) introduced by Sens. Hillary Clinton (D-N) and Wayne Allard (R-CO) in March. Reps. Eliot Engel (D-NY) and Chip Pickering (R-MS) co-sponsored the House bill.  A press conference was held to announce the bill's introduction during which Reps. Doyle and Smith were joined by Lee Grossman, executive director of ASA; actor-advocate Bradley Whitford (West Wing); and Jonathan Shestack, Hollywood producer and co-founder of Cure Autism Now. (see AUCD press release).  The bill was referred to the House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee.  The next step is for both the House and Senate bills to be considered by their respective committees.  To help move that process forward, AUCD is working to garner more House and Senator co-sponsors.  See AUCD's action alert for more information.


Lifespan Respite

Senators Clinton (D-NY) and Warner (R-VA) are circulating a letter to the Senate Labor, HHS, and Education Appropriations Committee urging the Committee to provide $40 million in FY 08 funding for the Lifespan Respite Care Act.  This is the next step in the process to obtain funding for the Act.  Previously, letters were sent to the House Budget Committee and House Appropriations Subcommittee.  On the Senate side, a letter was previously sent to the Senate Budget Committee with 22 additional Senators signing on.   Action is now needed to ensure appropriators provide funds in the FY 08 Labor, Health and Human Services appropriations bill.  The deadline is today.  For more information and to take action, see AUCD's action alert.


NIH Appropriations

Last Friday, the Senate Labor, HHS, Education Appropriations Subcommittee held a hearing concerning NIH funding for chronic conditions.  Witness included the directors of four institutes: Richard Hodes, National Institute of Aging; Stephen Katz, National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases; Elizabeth Nabel, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; Griffin Rodgers, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.  Among concerns raised in the hearing was the need for additional funding to attract and retain young scientists.  On the House side, a "dear colleague" letter asking Chairman Obey and Ranking Member Lewis for a 6.7% increase in NIH funding now has signatures from 161 House members.  The letter, circulated by the Ad Hoc Group for Medical Research, will close tomorrow.            



The House and Senate continue with hearings on reauthorization of No Child Left Behind.  The House holds a hearing today entitled, "NCLB: Preventing Dropouts and Enhancing School Safety."  The Senate HELP Committee will hold a hearing tomorrow on middle and high school. 



Last week, Senators Hagel (R-NE) and Harkin (D-IA) introduce the IDEA Full Funding Act (S. 1159).  This is the Senate companion to H.R. 821 introduced by Representatives VanHollen (D-MD), Ferguson (R-NJ), and Hooley (D-OR).  AUCD signed on letters of support for both bills.  



The trustees for Social Security and Medicare's trust fund will issue their annual report on the two system's financial conditions today.  If they report for the second year in a row that Medicare is projected to draw more than 45% of its funding from government general revenues within seven years, it would require proposed legislation for FY2009. 


Last week, Senate Republicans blocked the Democrats' Medicare drug price negotiation bill by voting against a motion to proceed to consideration by a vote of 55-42.  The legislation would remove a prohibition in current law (PL 108-173) that bars the government from negotiating drug prices on behalf of the private plans that administer the Medicare prescription drug benefit.