The Texas Republican, who is chairman of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Space, Science and Competitiveness, held a hearing Tuesday on making changes to the two agencies, less than a week after the House passed the 21st Century Cures Act 344-77. That bill would overhaul the FDA and NIH.
The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, which has jurisdiction over the FDA, is already at work on parallel legislation to the House-passed measure. But that didn’t stop Cruz, who is also running for president, from holding a hearing on a popular and bipartisan issue.
When asked if he wanted the Commerce Committee to amend the Cures bill or work on another reform effort altogether, Cruz said: “I think and hope the members of this committee will continue to look for ways to work together to take the testimony we received today and to implement it in specific legislative steps.”
Phil Novack, a spokesman for Cruz, said in an email that the senator “plans to actively pursue and support reforms, including fundamental reform at the FDA, that will better incentivize medical breakthroughs and ultimately cures.”
The subject of drug development might seem like a stretch for Cruz’s subcommittee. While the panel’s website says it is responsible for “science, technology, engineering and math research and development and policy,” during the past two years it has focused more on space travel, cybersecurity, forensics standards and climate change.
The Senate HELP Committee already has five working groups meeting on a weekly basis to draft a parallel bill to 21st Century Cures. Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) has said he wants the full committee to approve the legislation by the end of the year. A Senate Democratic aide last week said that draft language could be released in early fall.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), another presidential candidate, is also on the Commerce subcommittee, but he did not attend Tuesday’s hearing.
Speaking at the hearing, full committee member Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) said he wants to see 21st Century Cures become law but would like to improve the legislation first, seconding reforms advocated by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), who used his testimony to call for greater transparency at the FDA and better collaboration with private researchers.
“I hope the House legislation is improved on and I hope it passes,” Wicker said. “I hope the FDA is listening.”