A Weekly Advocacy Message from Mary Woolley: “Hang together or hang separately”

With the exception of the December run-off in Louisiana and final tallies in a few very close contests, we know the basic political landscape for the next two years. The change is greater than many analysts predicted, although it is not a surprise that the House and the Senate will both be Republican-controlled for the first time in eight years. What does this mean for U.S medical progress and scientific discovery generally? According to our experts at Research!America’s post-election briefing hosted by the AAAS this morning, we can expect some highs and lows in both the “lame-duck” and the next appropriations cycle, with the first seven months of the new year being the limited window of opportunity before most attention turns to the presidential election. Guest speaker David Hawkings, CQ Roll Call senior editor, provided a synopsis of exit polling and voter turnout, which reflected the public’s discontent with the White House and Congress, a continued emphasis on economic concerns, and even splits between Republicans and Democrats on just about every other issue, a combination of factors that doesn’t bode well for bipartisanship generally, much less regular order or major policy changes. In a panel moderated by Rebecca Adams of CQ HealthBeat, Research!America Chair John Porter, Vice Chair Mike Castle, board member Kweisi Mfume and Bart Gordon, all distinguished former Members of Congress, offered predictions on how — or indeed whether — the new Congress will assign a high priority to research moving forward. Congressman Gordon lamented the fact that post-election op-eds and news articles about the agendas of both parties do not mention R&D; there is clearly much more work ahead of us.  Panelists agreed that tax extenders will be kicked into gear this year or early next, but there wasn’t consensus on whether Congress could manage any major tax reform, including making the R&D tax credit permanent and repealing the medical device tax. All agreed with Gov. Castle that changes to our corporate tax structure should and will be on the table, whether action is ultimately taken or not. Social sciences research will be at high risk in the new Congress: a plea was made to scientists in these and all disciplines to be more clear in publicly accessible abstracts — it is critical to connect the dots between their work and the public’s interest!  Chairman Porter and Congressman Mfume stressed the importance for all of us, industry leaders included, to stand united in delivering messages about the value of the full science enterprise. A discussion among representatives from Research!America member organizations (Sue Nelson of the American Heart Association, Brent Del Monte of BIO, Bill Andresen of the University of Pennsylvania and Ted Thompson of the Parkinson’s Action Network) suggested directions for advocates to take in the new Congress, e.g. supporting expected 21st Century Cures legislation, tax reform, Warren-Hatch and other biomedical research funding bills. As was true in the discussion with the former congressmen, there was skepticism about the restoration of regular order. As part of the program, I highlighted a few examples from the more than 150 statements from candidates that we received in response to our voter education initiative, Ask Your Candidates! I encourage you to sample the statements to get a better sense of how those elected to represent us describe their priorities for advancing medical progress. There was lots more of value in the discussions this morning; click here to see photos from the event. Check our website tomorrow for video of the full program (90 minutes). One of the realities of advocacy is that the ground is constantly shifting under one’s feet. The seismic shifts in Congress provide one example, and the massive Ebola outbreak is another. Yesterday, the President sent an emergency appropriations request to Congress in the amount of $6.18 billion for the U.S. response to the Ebola outbreak. As I noted in my statement and syndicated media coverage that followed, it makes no sense to compromise other national priorities in order to address this one. Finally, another aspect of our nation’s defense will be front and center on Veteran’s Day next week. We salute all those who are working hard to find better treatments and cures for the diseases and disabilities that ail our returning warriors. Our fact sheet on Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) features the story of Sergeant First Class (Retired) Victor Medina who sustained a blast injury while serving his second tour of duty in Iraq. Both SFC (Retired) Medina and General Peter W. Chiarelli (Retired – also featured on the fact sheet) underscore the need for more TBI research. We know from our polls that Americans agree. We owe it to the members of the military, who risk so much for all of us, to put a higher priority on finding new treatments for harm sustained in the line of duty. Sincerely, Mary Woolley

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