The Senate will not vote on its group of bills complimenting the House-passed 21st Century Cures Act until September at the earliest, the chairman of the committee debating it said.
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, also said, however, that passage of the biomedical innovation package is still key.
“This could be the most important legislation Congress passes this year, and there's no excuse for not finishing our work in September,” he said in a statement.
The House easily passed the 21st Century Cures Act about a year ago. It includes more than $9 billion in mandatory funding for the National Institutes of Health over the next five years. That would support President Barack Obama's precision medicine initiative and the administration's “moonshot” effort to advance cancer research.
Supporters of the act say it removes regulatory burdens at the Food and Drug Administration and would allow more breakthrough medications and medical devices to receive approval.
Alexander took a different approach in the Senate. He divided the act into about 20 separate pieces of legislation. They all passed out of his committee over three markup sessions, but Democrats and Republicans in the Senate still do not agree on the mandatory NIH funding.
Democrats argue that the agency needs a funding boost to make up for years of budget cuts or it will fall far behind in research. Many Republicans have said they would not support mandatory funding unless the NIH is also required to restructure its budget.
Congress will leave for a nearly two-month summer break after this week. The legislation could be considered when they return, but the presidential election is likely to thwart advancement. An agreement on the act would still have a chance in a lame duck session after the election.
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has said Congress is “making good progress” on the act and will work on it during the recess.