Last-minute disputes have soured a major medical cures bill headed to the House floor Friday, but the legislation is expected to broadly pass anyway.
Some 18 months in the making, the cures bill provides more funding for some of the big federal health agencies — including the National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration — and enacts dozens of reforms aimed at speeding up the discovery and development of advanced medicines.
Known as the 21st Century Cure Act, it's gained huge popularity; more than half the House is co-sponsoring the legislation, nearly every major medical association has endorsed it and this week the White House endorsed it with a few qualifications.
"We are not going to stop until the ink is dry," said Republican Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., one of the bill's lead sponsors. "We have a chance to do something big, and this is our time."
But even as lawmakers praised the bill and pledged their support this week, some sharp disagreements marred the otherwise bipartisan endeavor.
Democrats are disappointed the bill's NIH funding got slashed from an original $10 billion over five years down to $8.75 billion. And they expressed anger from the House floor Thursday at a move by Republicans to add in Hyde Amendment language restricting the use of federal funds for abortions — mostly a symbolic move since that's outside the NIH and FDA's terrain.
"It's like the Republicans are stage magicians, attracting our attention with medical cures but at the time stuffing the flea bitten Hyde amendment into their hat," said Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif.
Three Democrats are offering an amendment to strip out the Hyde language, but it's likely to be defeated. Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., who partnered with Upton on the cures bill, also expressed annoyance Republicans added in the language.
"I think it's unnecessary and I think it distracts our attention," she said.
Republicans also faced criticism from their right flank. Of eight amendments the House plans to vote on Friday, they're most worried about one offered by freshman Rep. Dave Brat, R-Va., which would subject the new NIH and FDA funding to limits under the budget relief act.
Lawmakers can get around the caps by designating the spending as mandatory, which they've done. If the money were to be shifted over to the discretionary side, it would hurt Democratic support and potentially kill the overall bill.
Republicans who are hoping to move the bill forward quickly, urged their colleagues to set aside differences and support it.
"We do have a lot of distractions, but let us not be distracted from providing the tools for the next generation of doctors," said Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas.
If the bill passes, it'll next be up to the Senate to act. The Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hopes to pass a version of a medical cures bill by the end of the year. Then the two bills would likely be combined by a committee of appointed lawmakers.