Senate Democrats Question Funding Sources in Cures Bill

A trio of Senate Democrats attacked the 21st Century Cures Act in floor speeches Wednesday, though the caucus’s No. 2 leader said he still expects the chamber to pass the bill.

Sens. Dick Durbin of Illinois, Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts criticized the measure, which is set for a House vote today, saying it doesn’t guarantee new or enough funding for the National Institutes of Health, and that it includes giveaways to the pharmaceutical and tobacco industries.

The lawmakers are also concerned that the bill would take money from the Affordable Care Act’s prevention fund, which Durbin says “doesn’t make sense.”

“Going to prevention programs to pay for research programs is not clear thinking on the part of the people putting this together,” Durbin said. “We were told, ‘Well, you better do it because the Republicans will take control of the White House and the Congress yesterday and they’ll wipe out all the prevention funds.'”

“Well, we’ll pay a heavy price for that, and we’re starting to make that payment today,” he added.

Durbin, the minority whip, said the measure will likely pass.

A spokesman did not immediately respond to an inquiry about whether Durbin will vote for the bill.

Warren has already said she is against the measure, and Merkley voiced his opposition on Wednesday for the first time, saying, “We should kill this bill.”

Today’s floor remarks came after the White House released a statement Tuesday saying it “strongly supports” the bipartisan measure. While the administration noted that some provisions in the legislation “raise concerns,” it said the bill offers advances that outweigh those concerns.

The House is expected to pass the measure today, and the Senate could take a procedural vote on the bill as early as Monday.