Mid-term election results suggest opportunities and challenges
By Mary Lee Watts, M.P.H., R.D.
Director, AACR Government Relations
The dramatic shift in power on Capitol Hill, with Republicans gaining control of the House of Representatives and reducing the Democratic majority in the Senate, may have a profound impact on the future of cancer research. The shift in power is underscored by the largest freshman class in decades—nearly 120 new members in both the House and the Senate, and leadership posts in many committees up for grabs. In what is expected to be a more politically partisan Congress with its sights set on budget reduction, support for research could be in jeopardy unless the scientific community seizes opportunities to educate and impress upon members the value of research.
112th Congress at a Glance
As a result of the Nov. 2 elections, the Republicans will control the House of Representatives with a 50-vote majority. Democrats will maintain control over the Senate, albeit with a diminished majority over the 111th Congress.
47 Republicans (Net Gain: 6 Seats)
* Includes two independents who caucus with the Democrats
House of Representatives
242 Republicans (Net Gain: 64 Seats)
The House especially will be more polarized, with fewer moderates returning in the 112th Congress and newly elected Republicans staking their ground as not only the largest freshman class in more than 60 years, but also one that, according to some sources, brings considerable collective political experience to Washington. While there will be more health care professionals, including physicians, serving in Congress than ever before, there will be fewer members with a scientific or research background due to retirements and losses.
In general, the climate on Capitol Hill is expected to be contentious and not conducive to legislative progress, despite public statements from the president and congressional leaders about the importance of working together across party lines.
The following legislators have been elected to leadership positions:
House of Representatives
In the House, committee leadership and composition will change considerably, including those committees with jurisdiction over matters relevant to cancer research: the Appropriations Committee and the Energy and Commerce Committee. While the full membership rosters of each committee will not be complete until the new Congress convenes in early 2011, the chairs and ranking members have been named. Rep. Harold Rogers of Kentucky will chair the House Appropriations Committee, Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan will chair House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Rep. Ralph Hall of Texas will chair the House Science and Technology Committee. Fewer changes are expected on the Senate side.
Newly elected officials target health care reform, federal spending
Republicans are expected to take office touting a mandate from the public, based on the mid-term election results, to reduce federal spending. Prior to the election, the Republican Party released its platform for the 112th Congress, the Pledge to America, which outlines the policy positions that will be sought by a GOP-led House and embraced by Senate Republicans. Foremost in the platform is the pledge to cut non-defense discretionary spending to fiscal year 2008 levels.
The health care reform bill will also be a likely target, with most Republicans calling for its repeal and even some Democrats acknowledging that portions of it should be reconsidered. Repeal is highly unlikely, given that the Democrats still control the Senate, and President Obama has the power of the veto, however, Republicans could prevent the law from being fully implemented by blocking funding for its provisions, including those of interest to the cancer community such as comparative effectiveness research and the Public Health and Prevention Fund.
Budgetary implications for biomedical research; NIH director weighs in
The discussion surrounding the budget and the drive to cut non-defense, discretionary spending is of great concern to the biomedical research community. National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Francis Collins has publicly expressed his concerns about the impact a spending freeze would have on the budget for the agency, saying that spending cuts proposed by incoming Republican leadership would cut success rates for NIH grants in half to around 10 percent. Rolling back NIH funding to FY2008 levels would amount to a 4.3 percent cut ($1.3 billion) from current funding levels, and according to Collins, would be devastating to the agency and demoralizing to scientists.
Despite these concerns, House Republicans have yet to provide any details on how spending cuts would be enacted, and cuts to popular programs like those at NIH would face stiff opposition from the Democratic-controlled Senate and the White House.
Read more from the December Edition of the AACR Cancer Policy Monitor: