Divisive politics have dominated our political system for several years, and many Americans have now accepted this as the norm. However, there are still many examples of strong acts of bipartisanship across the aisle that often go unnoticed. Congress That Works aims to bring attention to these powerful efforts to pass legislation through the “Congress Working” Series.
One example of such positive bipartisanship is showcased in the 21st Century Cures Act, which was signed into law by President Obama in December 2016. The long, complex, and often exhausting process of drug and device approval is a challenge that millions of Americans face. What’s more: The time it takes for treatments to be approved and brought to market can sometimes be a matter of life or death for many people who suffer from terminal illnesses. Congress heard the nation’s cry and drafted a bill to improve the accessibility of medical developments to patients who need them the most.
The act allocated approximately $4.8 billion in funding to the National Institutes of Health, with a significant portion specifically designated for cancer research in memory of former Senator Joe Biden’s son, Beau, who passed away in 2015 from brain cancer. Moreover, the bill established accelerated product development programs and granted more authority to the FDA to assist with the retainment of professional, technical, and scientific experts. The bill granted $1 billion in assistance for states to fight the opioid epidemic and strengthened mental health parity regulation. The legislation also works to improve the quality of health benefits for small businesses and their employees. With small businesses accounting for 99.9% of all U.S. businesses and employing nearly half of America’s workforce, this has a major impact on the quality of life for countless Americans.
So, how did the 21st Century Cures Act—which deals with healthcare, an often-divisive subject— successfully pass through a Republican led Congress and a Democratic president? The answer is simple: Strong bipartisanship and key advocates on both sides of the aisle. Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), was particularly instrumental in the passage of this bill, along with Reps. Tim Murphy (R-PA) and Diana DeGette (D-CO). Only five senators opposed the bill; thus, it passed by a wide margin. Bipartisan medical issues such as responding to the opioid epidemic and advancing cancer research were addressed effectively, bridging the diverse interests of both parties and branches of government. Pharmaceutical companies and hospitals also played a big role and made sure this bill would pass on both sides of the aisle. Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) even referred to it as “the most important bill of the year.”
This goes to show that if members of Congress continue to work past their differences and cooperate across the aisle, meaningful progress can be made to better the lives of Americans across the country. There is no doubt that the bill has positively impacted thousands of patients, who now have more access to the newest life-saving treatments. Enabling internal dialogue and operations to facilitate collaboration between lawmakers with a diverse set of interests is essential to the success of bipartisan legislation, and that is precisely why the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress is so important in implementing a Congress that truly works for its people.