As a survivor of childhood polio myself, I have always empathized with children today who battle disabling or life-threatening diseases and disorders. I have a special place in my heart for the doctors, nurses, and caregivers who work day in and day out to help these kids, and the researchers searching for cures.
That’s why I was especially gratified that the U.S. Senate, at my request, passed legislation to fund pediatric medical research. That bill is now on its way to the president’s desk for signature. Too many bills that can do a lot of good are caught up in the nasty politics and process of Washington. This time, we made a difference.
The Gabriella Miller Kids First Research Act—named in honor of a young girl who advocated for cancer awareness and tragically died from a brain tumor at age 10—will rightfully shift funding away from the Republican and Democratic national political conventions toward pediatric medical research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). I don’t think anyone can argue with the fact that helping sick and disabled children should take priority over sound bites, balloons, and streamers.
In fact, the bill will completely end the taxpayer subsidy for the two parties’ national conventions, which in 2012 amounted to $36.5 million. Over the next 10 years, the sum amount saved is projected to total $126 million. All $126 million will be directed to a fund for pediatric medical research at NIH.
The legislation ensures that the funding must be spent on pediatric research, and it is not limited to any specific field—all pediatric diseases and disorders, from cancer to diabetes to Down syndrome, will be eligible. Decisions about which projects receive funding will not be made by politicians but by doctors and researchers at NIH through a peer-review process.
As a senator from Kentucky, I’ve long been a strong supporter of pediatric medical research. I co-sponsored and helped shepherd through the Senate the Childhood Cancer Act of 2008. I also voted for the Combating Autism Act of 2006, and as Senate Republican Leader, helped to secure its reauthorization in 2011.
The Gabriella Miller Kids First Research Act passed the House of Representatives with a clear bipartisan majority of nearly 300 votes. When it arrived in the Senate in December, I worked behind the scenes to ensure the bill was not buried in committee. Then in January, I asked my Republican colleagues to support the measure, and ultimately every single one did so. Yet, for two months, Senate Democrats refused to act. As the Republican Leader, this week I was able to use my position to cut through the partisan gridlock and get the bill passed.
I did so because curing childhood diseases and disorders is the kind of issue that should not be decided based on political party. On the contrary—it is the perfect example of the kind of legislation that should move easily through Congress. On behalf of the children in Kentucky who suffer from incurable illnesses or disorders, I am glad that this time it did.