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February 3, 2017: ASPET Government Affairs and Science Policy Update

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Congress still discussing process for completing 2017 spending bills; Senate Appropriations panel finalizes rosters; Trump Cabinet nominees considered by Committees with research funding discussed 

House Appropriations Committee leaders are beginning conversations about how to fund government agencies for the remainder of fiscal year (FY) 2017 after the current “continuing resolution” (CR) expires on April 28. Sometime before that date, Congress will have to pass another CR or complete work on the unfinished 2017 spending bills. 

Following the Appropriations Committee’s first meeting of the year on January 24, Labor, Health and Human Services Subcommittee Chairman Tom Cole (R-OK) told reporters it is possible that several of the remaining bills could be combined into a single package before April. Cole also indicated that appropriators are expecting to receive requests from the Trump administration for additional funds for the Department of Defense and Department of Homeland Security, which could further impact the discussions on how to proceed.

Senate Appropriations Committee Announces Subcommittee Leadership and Membership Rosters: On Jan. 24, the Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) and Vice Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) announced the 115th chairs, ranking members, and membership rosters. New Labor-HHS Subcommittee members include Senators Kennedy (R-La.), Rubio (RFla.), Murphy (D-Conn.), and Manchin (D-W.Va).

President Issues New Executive Order to Reduce Regulations: On Jan. 30, President Trump issued an executive order related to “reducing regulation and controlling regulatory costs.” The action taken by the president requires that an executive department or agency repeal two existing regulations for every new regulation issued.

Confirmation Hearings: Senators continued consideration of President Trump’s cabinet nominees. The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee held a hearing on Representative Tom Price’s (R-GA) nomination for Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). During the hearing, Price paid tribute to the HHS staff, stating they are “doing incredible work to develop new drugs and treatment options, driven by scientists conducting remarkable research.” He added that HHS plays a critical role in fulfilling a promise that has been made to “maintain and expand America’s leading role in American medical innovation and treatment of radical disease.” In response to a question from Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) about whether he supports increases in funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Price said, “NIH is a treasure for our country and the kind of thing we should be doing to find cures for diseases.”

Representative Price also appeared before the Senate Finance Committee, the panel designated to vote on whether to send his nomination to the full Senate for consideration. Price’s testimony was similar to his statement to the HELP Committee and he again acknowledged HHS employees and the scientific community. On February 1, the Finance Committee approved Price’s nomination although no Democrats participated in the vote. A Senate vote on Price’s nomination could occur as early as the week of February 5.

OMB Director Confirmation Hearing:The Senate Budget Committee and Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee held hearings Jan. 24 on the nomination of Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.) to lead the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) asked Mulvaney if he would support increasing budgets for the federal research agencies, and he replied, “Generally, I do believe that there is a proper role for the federal government in research.” In response to a question from Senator John McCain (R-AZ) about whether increases in defense spending should be offset with decreases in non-defense discretionary spending, Mulvaney said, “I have voted regularly and plan to advise the president that the best possible route forward is to raise the top line defense number and of course have reductions in non-defense discretionary spending.” Mulvaney’s nomination was approved by both committees on February 2.

FDA Commissioner Candidate Pool: STAT News reports that President Trump is considering several candidates for FDA commissioner, including some who have expressed willingness to radically change how the agency vets new drugs. Several known candidates have proposed measures that would scale back the requirements for drug approval. One candidate even proposed replacing the FDA drug review process with an open forum where consumers can post medication reviews, while another advocated approving treatments once they've passed an initial safety test, regardless of whether they work. Read the full report here.

ASPET Coalition Partner, Research!America to Honor Senator Lamar Alexander for Championing Research: Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) has been selected to receive the Edwin C. Whitehead Award for Medical Research Advocacy for his longstanding commitment to improving the lives of Americans, and more recently, leading passage of the 21st Century Cures Act in the U.S. Senate. He will be honored at Research!America's Advocacy Awards Dinner on Wednesday, March 15, 2017 at the Mellon Auditorium in Washington, D.C.

Sen. Alexander has a long track record of championing scientific and medical research and advancing key public health priorities. As governor of Tennessee, Sen. Alexander supported scientific research in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and in recognition of his efforts a new species was named after him. Since his election to the Senate in 2003, Sen. Alexander has worked to advance science and technology.

He has sponsored several major pieces of legislation aimed at strengthening our nation's scientific enterprise, including the original America COMPETES Act, which implemented the recommendations of the landmark report "Rising Above the Gathering Storm," and authorized increased funding for the National Science Foundation and other science agencies. Read the full story here.

Laboratory Modernization and Technology Transfer Act Introduced in Congress: The U.S. House of Representatives this week unanimously approved the Department of Energy Research and Innovation Act (H.R. 589), introduced by Science, Space, and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas). H.R. 589 provides policy direction to the Department of Energy (DOE) on basic science research, nuclear energy research and development (R&D), research coordination and priorities, and reforms to streamline national lab management.

Last updated: February 7, 2017 

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