Speeches & Floor Statements

Floor Speech: Senator Lamar Alexander Cures Floor Speech

Posted on November 30, 2016

Mr. President, the second subject I came here to talk about is the 21st Century Cures Act and the mental health legislation, both of which are being debated in the U.S. House of Representatives. There will be a vote on that legislation this afternoon at about 5:30.

This is legislation that has the strong support of the President of the United States, the active support of the Vice President of the United States. House Speaker Ryan has said that it is an important part of his agenda for health care for the future, and the Majority Leader, Senator McConnell, has said he believes it is the most important piece of legislation Congress could enact this year. One reason it has been successful is that it has been so bipartisan in its making, both in the House and in the Senate.

Let me begin by thanking President Obama and Vice President Biden for their strong support and their interest. The President supports precision medicine—the idea of personalized medicine. For example, if the Senator from Pennsylvania and I each have the same disease, we might not take exactly the same medicine because our genetics might be different. We now know enough about it that if we can help doctors have that information, they can prescribe medicines that will help us live longer.

The President and the executive office of the President have issued a Statement of Administration Policy that is one of the strongest I have seen. I hope it persuades both Republicans and Democrats to be supportive of this legislation.

Mr. President, I mentioned the bipartisan nature of the legislation, and I will give two examples of that. My two colleagues, who are on the floor, will give the second example, which is the mental health bill.

This has been complex, no doubt about it. Yesterday I spoke at length on the floor about that. I ask that my colleagues recognize the core of this legislation, which is the following: There were 19 different bills that went through the Senate's Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee—22 Members of the Senate. After many hearings, the largest number of recorded votes against any of those 19 bills was 2. We have a very diverse committee. We have some of the most liberal Members and some of the most conservative Members, and we were able to work out 19 bills that are the core of this legislation on a complex issue like this, and the largest number of votes recorded against any of the 19 bills was 2.

Secondly, every single one of those 19 bills but one had a Democratic sponsor and a Republican sponsor—usually more than one.

In addition to that, there is money attached to the bill. That is very unusual because this is an authorization bill, but the House did it, and we did it as well. We recognized the importance of this to the American people, and we did it in a fiscally responsible way. It is $6.3 billion. It doesn't add a penny to the overall budget because for every increase in the discretionary budget, we reduced the same amount in the mandatory budget.

What is the funding for? The National Institutes of Health will get $4.8 billion for research on urgent matters; $1.8 billion for the Cancer Moonshot that the Vice President is leading; $1.4 billion for precision medicine; $1.6 billion for the BRAIN Initiative, including Alzheimer's; and then $1 billion for state grants to help states fight the opioid abuse epidemic. That money has been accelerated so that all of this money is spent in the first 2 years and all of the Cancer Moonshot money is spent in the first 5 years. Speaker Ryan arranged for this money in the following way: While it has to be approved each year by the Appropriations Committee, it cannot be spent on anything other than what it has been designated for. So that $1 billion can be spent only on opioid abuse.

I cannot imagine that the House of Representatives, if it overwhelmingly passes the 21st Century Cures bill in a vote, will not complete its promise to spend $1 billion on opioid abuse this year and next year. I cannot imagine the U.S. Senate, which I also expect will approve this by a large vote, doing the same. I also can't imagine Democrats and Republicans going home and having to explain why they would vote no on $1 billion worth of state grants for opioid money when all year we have been talking about what an urgent epidemic it is or having to explain why they voted no for $1.4 billion for Cancer Moonshot when so many advances are being made or voting against $1.4 billion for precision medicine when the President so eloquently made the case of why it is important or $1.6 billion for the BRAIN Initiative at a time when Dr. Francis Collins, the head of the National Institutes of Health, tells us that we are close to identifying Alzheimer's before there are symptoms and we could have the medicine that will permit us to retard its progression. Think of the grief that will save millions of families. Think of the billions of dollars that will save for our country.

This bill has had the participation of dozens of Members of the U.S. Senate but none more effective and important than the Senator from Louisiana, Mr. Cassidy, and the Senator from Connecticut, Chris Murphy. Even though they are both relatively new to the Senate, they have taken the mental health bill and navigated landmines as if they have been here 25 years. They have worked across the aisle with each other, and they have worked with Democrats and Republicans in the House of Representatives to produce a bill that passed overwhelmingly in the House and will be added to the bill today by amendment. It has also been approved by our Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee here, and I thought it would be helpful today—and an example of the bipartisan support for the bill—to ask Senator Cassidy and Senator Murphy to describe the mental health bill.

Senator McConnell says the 21st Century Cures bill is the most important piece of legislation that Congress will enact and pass this year. I believe that the mental health bill, which has three parts that we will enact this year—a part from our committee and part from judiciary—is the most significant piece of mental health legislation in terms of reforms of programs that the Congress will have passed in more than a decade.