Jan 18 2017

Commonplace and miraculous. That’s how the inaugural ceremony struck President Reagan in 1981. “The orderly transfer of authority as called for in the Constitution routinely takes place, as it has for almost two centuries, and few of us stop to think how unique we really are,” he said in his address. “In the eyes of many in the world, this every-four-year ceremony we accept as normal is nothing less than a miracle.”

President Reagan’s words are as true today as they were more than three decades ago. On Jan. 20, 2017, during the 58th Inaugural Ceremonies, the world will look on as one administration peacefully passes the torch to the next. For the millions of people who are risking their lives to secure freedom and democracy in their own nations, the peaceful transition of power will indeed appear miraculous.

While inaugural traditions have varied over the years, the peaceful transition between presidential administrations signals that we are united as a people behind an enduring republic, and remains a unique symbol of our constitutional system.

The history teacher in me must note that our nation’s first transfer of power, from George Washington to John Adams, wasn’t terribly remarkable. The real test came in the wake of the extremely divisive, fiercely partisan contest between Adams and his vice president, Thomas Jefferson, in 1800.

In his 1801 inaugural address, Jefferson declared: “We have called by different names brethren of the same principles. We are all Republicans. We are all Federalists.” While the election proved so vitriolic that Adams refused to attend the inauguration, he accepted the results and, in doing so, strengthened the foundation of our young republic. The change in administration from Adams to Jefferson was the first time power transferred willingly, though not enthusiastically, between political parties — but it certainly wasn’t the last.

Since World War II, more often than not, the inaugural ceremonies involved a transfer of power to a different political party. Only once have three elections in a row gone to the same party — Reagan was elected in 1980 and 1984, followed by George H. W. Bush in 1988. Otherwise, our republic has endured throughout the numerous shifts between competing political and ideological visions. It is precisely in that moment — when power transfers peacefully between parties, regardless of how hard fought the election may have been — that America shows the world the meaning, and power, of democracy.

The inaugural moment lends itself to unity. As chairman of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, I look forward to welcoming Americans to the U.S. Capitol for President-elect Donald Trump’s swearing-in on Jan. 20. As we have for over two centuries, we will once again stand together as Americans with all three branches of our government to witness the next commonplace and miraculous event in our enduring republic. Inaugurations of presidents have become moments of celebration — not of victory, but of democracy.

Sen. Blunt is the chairman of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies.

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Oct 22 2016

Three years ago, President Obama hailed the start of the Obamacare exchanges as a “life-changing” opportunity for Americans. Life has changed for Missouri families under this disaster of a law, but it is a far cry from what the president promised.

When President Obama rammed his health care law through Congress, without a single Republican vote, he repeatedly assured Americans they would be able to keep the plans and doctors they liked and could afford. By the end of 2013, at least 4.7 million Americans had their plans canceled because they did not meet the law’s mandatory requirements.

Since that time, several insurers have pulled out of the Obamacare exchanges in Missouri, significantly narrowing health plan options for individuals and families required to purchase insurance under the law. Last month was the deadline for insurance companies to indicate whether or not they’ll offer plans on the Obamacare exchanges, yet the Department of Health and Human Services has refused to release that information, leaving Missouri families unclear about what their options and rates will be next year.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, an estimated 85 percent of Missouri counties will have only one Obamacare marketplace insurer when open enrollment begins on November 1. Based on that report and conversations I’ve had with my constituents, it could be even worse — leaving only 11 counties in Missouri (including the City of St. Louis) with more than one option of health insurers on the Obamacare exchanges. This is in stark contrast to the options Missourians had for this year, where every county had at least three insurers participating in the exchanges. In light of these drastic reductions, I have written to HHS Secretary Burwell demanding this information be released before the enrollment date so that Missourians who are losing their current health plans have the opportunity to secure coverage and plan for the future.

In a last ditch effort to stop insurance companies from fleeing the exchanges, the Obama administration has reportedly offered them a several billion dollar taxpayer-funded payout. This is in addition to the illegal payments the Obama administration is already making to insurance companies to prop up the exchanges, according to the non-partisan Government Accountability Office. Families work hard to earn a living, and they shouldn’t be on the hook for an Obamacare bailout — especially when they’re already paying a steep price for this law.

Despite the president’s promise to “bend the cost curve,” health insurers in our state are set to increase prices again next year, with some submitting rate hikes as high as a 34 percent increase. In my letter to Secretary Burwell, I have also asked that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services release information on the rate hikes they’ve approved so that families know what additional costs they’re facing because of this law. And these rate hikes are on top of the skyrocketing deductibles families have to meet before they’re even able to use their insurance.

This year, the average deductible for a middle-tier, or silver, health plan on the Obamacare exchange was over $3,000. The average deductible for a bronze plan topped $5,000. To make matters worse, those who aren’t able to afford the few options available to them on the Obamacare exchanges will face up to a $2,045 penalty next year.

Missourians shouldn’t be penalized for the president’s failure to live up to his promises. That’s why I’ve cosponsored two bills that would exempt individuals and families from the penalty if their county has either one insurance provider or none at all, or if their premiums have increased by more than 10 percent. These two bills would provide an important stopgap to protect families from the fallout of Obamacare, but there’s much more that should be done to ensure access to quality, affordable health care.

For example, I believe we should expand and reform high-risk pools to provide insurance options for people with pre-existing conditions.

I’ve also backed legislation that would allow Missourians to put more of their pre-tax dollars into portable health savings accounts and use those funds to pay their premiums. Expanding health savings accounts would make health care more affordable now and easier to plan for in the future.

I support efforts to allow small businesses to pool together to purchase coverage for their employees. Small businesses pay, on average, eight to 18 percent more for employee health plans than large employers. Allowing small businesses to pool together would help close the gap between what they pay and the rates that unions and large corporations are able to secure.

We can also bring down the cost of insurance by allowing families to purchase plans across state lines. Doing so would increase competition and enable families to shop for the plans that best fit their needs and budgets.

All of these solutions would go a long way toward creating a health care system that better addresses the needs of hardworking families, without imposing costly new mandates and tax hikes.

Whether it’s rising premiums, sky-high deductibles or fewer health care choices, Obamacare has proven unworkable and unaffordable. That’s why I’ve voted to repeal the law, and why I’ll continue working to advance real solutions that will ensure Missourians have access to quality health care they can afford.

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Jul 22 2016

The opioid epidemic is devastating lives, families and communities across the nation, and Missouri is no exception. In 2014, the most recent year for which Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data is available, more than 1,000 Missourians died from a drug overdose. That’s why I’ve been working in the Senate to combat opioid use disorder, and I’m pleased to announce that we’ve taken a major step forward by sending the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act to the president’s desk.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, nearly 2 million Americans have an opioid use disorder related to prescription pain relievers, and more than half a million have an opioid use disorder related to heroin. Every day, 120 Americans die of a drug overdose, 78 of which are opioid related. All told, heroin and prescription drugs took the lives of nearly 30,000 Americans last year.

The CDCl has rightly labeled this an epidemic, but the good news is that effective treatment exists. Last year, 72 percent of individuals in Missouri’s Opioid Treatment Program did not test positive for illicit drugs when subjected to random drug tests. That means that in nearly three-fourths of cases where individuals in Missouri sought treatment, the treatment worked.

The bill that the Senate passed this month, which I cosponsored, expands access to evidence-based treatment and recovery services, and focuses on proven strategies that will strengthen prevention programs and support effective law enforcement efforts.

The policy updates included in this agreement complement efforts I’ve led, as chairman of the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee, to prioritize resources to combat the opioid epidemic. Last month, the committee passed the first bipartisan Labor-HHS funding bill in seven years, which included a 93 percent increase for programs directly target opioid use disorder. Total funding for opioid-specific programs in this bill has been increased by 542 percent over the past two years I’ve served as chairman. Over the same time, the committee has eliminated 36 ineffective or duplicative programs topping $1.25 billion.

To help more individuals get the help they need, I’ve also introduced the Expand Excellence In Mental Health Act. The bill would increase access to certified community behavioral health clinics, which offer programs that treat substance use disorders. Under the measure, the 24 states receiving mental health planning grants through the Excellence in Mental Health Act, which was signed into law in 2014, would be able to participate in a demonstration program that expands access to behavioral health services.

The opioid epidemic is a public health crisis, and I’ll continue leading and supporting efforts to expand access to treatment, strengthen our communities, and help more people live longer, healthier lives.

Senator Roy Blunt represents Missouri in the United States Senate. He is the chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education.

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Jun 19 2016

“What are the Mumps?” That’s what my 11-year-old son Charlie asked on a recent visit to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He was looking at a timeline of groundbreaking medical breakthroughs that have effectively wiped out many of the diseases that plagued our country for generations. It wasn’t too long ago that every 11-year-old knew what mumps were. It goes to show what biomedical research has done to help Americans live longer, healthier lives. That’s why, as Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, I’ve been proud to lead efforts to increase our commitment to biomedical research and advance progress toward new, live-saving cures.

This year, the Senate is on track to provide the National Institutes of Health a $2 billion increase for the second year in a row, while eliminating a total of 36 ineffective or duplicative programs topping $1.25 billion and finding other savings. Last year, we secured the first increase NIH had received in over a decade. We did it by making tough choices in other parts of the budget, and directing funding toward programs that will have the most benefit for the most Americans, from autism to cancer to Alzheimer’s.

For example, the bill provides a $400 million increase to advance Alzheimer’s research. That’s a 40 percent increase over last year’s level, and a 120 percent increase in the last two years.

There are currently more than five million Americans living with Alzheimer’s and that number is expected to reach 16 million by 2050. At that time, the cost to treat and care for those suffering from the disease is expected to top $1.1 trillion a year, or twice the amount we currently spend to defend the country.

Without a medical breakthrough to prevent, slow, or stop the disease, Medicare and Medicaid-related costs could rise nearly five-fold. Yet for every $161 Medicare and Medicaid spend on caring for individuals with Alzheimer’s disease, the federal government spends only $1 on Alzheimer’s research.

The bill also provides a significant increase for the Precision Medicine Initiative, a program the committee began last year which utilizes specific genetic, environmental, and lifestyle data to tailor treatments to individuals. Precision medicine is particularly critical when it comes to advancing cancer research and treatment. All cancers aren’t the same and all people aren’t the same. A few years ago more than twenty percent of the work to discover how the human genome works was done at Washington University in Missouri.

A recent clinical trial for a genetic test known as MammaPrint found that as many as half of patients who were slated for chemotherapy after breast cancer surgery based on traditional clinical assessments did not actually require the treatment. The study confirms what I heard from doctors and researchers at the Siteman Cancer Center in St. Louis earlier this year, who told me that developing targeted therapies through precision medicine has the potential to save patients unnecessary – and often aggressive treatment – while driving down health care costs. It’s important to continue the National Cancer Institute’s efforts relating to precision medicine.

It is imperative that we spend every taxpayer dollar wisely. Having had the privilege of meeting with survivors, advocates, medical researchers, and families that have lost loved ones throughout our state, we need to eliminate things that aren’t working and prioritize health research that benefits individuals, families, and taxpayers. We are doing that now, and it must continue in the years ahead. I will continue fighting to make that happen, in the hopes that one day my son’s children will ask, “what is cancer?” Or, “what is Alzheimer’s?”

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Jan 06 2016

In his letter to the editor on Dec. 5, Mark Runyan urged Congress to increase funding for cancer research at the National Institutes of Health. I am proud to announce that the government funding bill for next year includes a $2 billion NIH funding increase that I fought for in the Senate.

As Runyan notes, NIH has lost more than 20 percent of its research purchasing power over the past decade. As chairman of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education and Related Agencies, I helped pass a funding bill in committee earlier this year that raised NIH funding by $2 billion, a 6 percent increase. The measure included more than $5 billion for the National Cancer Institute, a 5 percent increase. Together, this represented the largest funding increase NIH and NCI have received in this bill in over a decade. I’m glad that the funding levels passed by the committee were included in the final version of the government appropriations bill that was enacted this week.

In August, I attended a roundtable at University Hospital in Columbia where I heard from cancer researchers and local advocates whose personal stories underscored the vital need to enhance federal funding for NIH. One mother who lost her 6-year-old son to a rare blood cancer in 2014 said she was “mortified” to learn about the lack of research funding after her son was diagnosed. We must do better for her family, and millions of others that have suffered the heartache of a cancer diagnosis or lost a loved one to the disease.

According to the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network, “federal funding for cancer research and prevention programs has had a role in every major advance against this disease, resulting in 350 more lives saved from the disease per day than in 1991.” Today, research is underway at NCI to develop therapies that target gene mutations present in 30 percent of cancers. It is one of several key initiatives the institute is pursuing to advance all aspects of cancer research and treatment, “from basic science to clinical science, to research on implementation and cancer care delivery.”

I am grateful that my colleagues made NIH funding a priority in the government funding measure, and hope they will continue their support and give hope to families in Missouri and across the nation that are battling cancer and other incurable diseases.

Roy Blunt is the junior U.S. senator from Missouri, in office since 2011.

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Nov 28 2015

In her letter "Increase funding to find a cure for Alzheimer's" (Nov. 21), Martha Daly issued a call to action to increase funding for Alzheimer’s research. I have been proud to lead efforts in the Senate to boost funding for the National Institutes of Health, including a 60 percent increase for Alzheimer’s research, and hope my colleagues will answer Daly’s call and join me in this critical effort.

Every 68 seconds, someone in America develops Alzheimer’s. There are currently more than 5 million Americans living with the disease and, as Daly noted, that number is expected to reach 16 million by 2050. Yet for every $260 Medicare and Medicaid spend on caring for individuals with Alzheimer’s disease, the federal government spends only $1 on Alzheimer’s research. Increasing funding for NIH research will help close that gap, and bring us closer to finding a cure for this devastating disease.

Over the past year, cutting-edge NIH-supported research identified a set of 10 compounds in blood that might be used to distinguish the risk for developing memory deficits or Alzheimer’s disease. And, according to the National Institute on Aging, scientists are now able to look beyond simply treating symptoms and focus on addressing “underlying disease processes ..., developing and testing several possible interventions, including immunization therapy, drug therapies, cognitive training, physical activity, and treatments used for cardiovascular and diabetes.” These are promising steps, but there is much more to be done.

As chairman of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education and Related Agencies, I advanced a bill this year that increased NIH funding by $2 billion — the largest increase NIH has received in this bill since 2003. The bill provided a $350 million increase for the National Institute on Aging, the lead institute researching Alzheimer’s disease, and increased funding for other priorities like Precision Medicine, the BRAIN Initiative to map the human brain, and combating antibiotic resistance.

In the coming weeks, the Senate will take up legislation to fund the government for the coming year. I urge my colleagues to listen to their constituents, like Daly, who have experienced firsthand the heartache that comes with caring for a loved one with an incurable disease, and support increased funding for NIH and Alzheimer’s research.

Sen. Roy Blunt  •  R-Mo.

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Nov 05 2015

From every deployment to every move and every missed birthday in between, our military men and women shoulder a tremendous burden - but they don’t do it alone. The strength of our military lies in the unwavering support our service members receive from their spouses and families. To honor their sacrifice, we must do everything in our power to help address the challenges they face. That is the goal of the Military Family Stability Act.

The Military Family Stability Act, which I recently introduced with my colleague Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, addresses a problem I consistently hear from military spouses in Missouri and across the nation: an ill-timed move that takes a child out of school, or prevents a husband or wife from pursuing an educational or career opportunity.

For many military families, the cost of maintaining two residences to allow a spouse or child to finish a school year or complete a job is simply unfeasible. To increase stability for military families, the measure provides housing for the family to either move early or remain at their current duty station for up to six months while their husband or wife begins a new assignment. For Mia Reisweber, an educator and doctoral student from St. Louis, that would make all the difference.

When Mia’s husband received orders to transfer from Hawaii to Missouri, she sought an early release from Hawaii to begin her PhD program on time. She was told it would be easier and faster for her to change locations due to a divorce, rather than for a doctoral program, because there is a process for a divorce. Mia had to move to Missouri at her own expense, while her husband “couch surfed” for three months until he could join her. That is unacceptable.

According to a study by the Military Officers Association of America, 90 percent of military spouses – more than 600,000 men and women – are unemployed or underemployed. More than half cite concerns about their spouse’s service as a deterrent for prospective employers. Not only is that unfair to our military families, it is a substantial loss of talent for our economy and our local communities.

Frequent and abrupt relocations also take a heavy toll on the more than two million children of U.S. service members. Research shows that students who move at least six times between the first and twelfth grades are 35 percent more likely to fail a grade. The average military family will move six to nine times throughout a child’s time in school, three times more than a non-military family. The added flexibility the Military Family Stability Act provides will “undoubtedly assist in mitigating academic and social-emotional risks due to high mobility and transition of our military-connected children,” says the Military Child Education Coalition.

Not every family will seek the benefits provided under the bill, but for those that do, it is a small price to pay relative to the costs they bear throughout their military careers. In a constrained fiscal environment, every taxpayer dollar we spend must be directed toward our highest priorities. Providing more stability and enhancing the quality of life for military families meets that standard, and will help us retain the best, most well-trained Soldiers, Airmen, Sailors, Marines, and Coast Guard men and women.

The Military Family Stability Act has garnered overwhelming support from major Veteran Service and Military Family Organizations, including the National Military Family Association, the Military Officers Association of America, the Military Child Education Coalition, Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Blue Star Families, the National Guard Association, and the Veterans Support Foundation. And, it enjoys bipartisan support in the Senate. After more than a decade of active military engagements across the globe, our troops have had to evolve and adapt to meet the challenges of the 21st century landscape. The policies affecting their families – the backbone of our military strength – should be no different.

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Jun 24 2015

Now is the time to focus our efforts and our research on medical advances. That is why I have proposed a $2 billion increase in funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and reduced spending to pay for it.

Scientists are at the genesis of understanding the genetic and environmental factors that cause major diseases such as cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. Almost every American family has been affected by one or more of these diseases, and many have a painful story to tell about the impact not only on the patient but on the entire family.

To date, NIH-funded research has raised life expectancy, improved quality of life, and is an economic engine helping to sustain American competitiveness. NIH-funded biomedical research is the catalyst behind many of the advances that are now helping Americans live longer and healthier lives. NIH efforts are worthy of continued investment.

Over the past year, cutting-edge NIH-supported research identified a set of 10 compounds in blood that might be used to distinguish the risk for developing memory deficits or Alzheimer’s disease, designed and tested a class of new antibiotics to treat tuberculosis, and helped paralyzed individuals regain some movement after receiving spinal stimulation.

A bold commitment to the NIH is essential to address our nation’s growing health concerns, spur medical innovation, sustain America’s competitiveness and reduce healthcare costs.

The appropriations bill we will vote on tomorrow in the Senate Appropriations Committee funds a revolutionary new concept called Precision Medicine, which would address the reactionary and imprecise way in which we currently treat disease.

Precision Medicine will allow physicians to individualize treatments to patients based on their unique genetic makeup. Precision Medicine will give a physician the potential to specifically target a cure rather than move forward with a one-size-fits all treatment.

We increase funding by approximately $350 million for research into Alzheimer’s disease. Every 68 seconds, someone in America develops Alzheimer’s disease, and it currently affects more than 5 million Americans age 65 and older.

Yet for every $260 Medicare and Medicaid spend on caring for individuals with Alzheimer’s disease, the federal government spends only $1 on Alzheimer’s research. Further NIH-funded research is the best way to manage this disease in the future.

Finally, I believe we must recognize the growing public health threat of antibiotic resistance.

Antibiotics have been used to successfully treat patients for more than 70 years, but over time the drugs have become less effective, as organisms adapt to the drugs designed to kill them.

My bill provides $100 million in new funding to expand efforts to develop new antibiotics, create rapid diagnostic tests and build a national genome sequence database on all reported resistant human infections.

Funding for the NIH lays the foundation for drug and device discoveries over the next decade. Biomedical research is the answer to lowering our nation’s healthcare costs.

Research funded by the NIH has prevented immeasurable human suffering and has yielded economic benefits as well, thanks to Americans living longer, healthier and more productive lives.

Whether it is finding new ways to treat cancer or leukemia, prevent Alzheimer’s disease or help people suffering from other rare or common conditions, many of the answers will continue to be through the NIH.

Between 1998 and 2003, NIH research funding doubled, but over the past decade, NIH has lost 22 percent of its purchasing power for research. I believe funding decisions represent more than just a dollar figure. They reflect our nation’s priorities. As Congress faces unprecedented challenges to reduce government spending, this is the time to reevaluate our federal funding decisions and priorities. I believe a federal priority must be biomedical research. I look forward to moving my appropriations bill through the committee and working with my Senate colleagues to ensure we prioritize the NIH. This is a time of promise in medical research and the United States should be at the forefront of this era. To do so, we must commit to paying for the research to do it.

As the chairman of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee that funds the NIH, I have proposed an appropriations bill that will do just that by providing $32 billion — an increase of $2 billion — for the NIH.

Now is the time to prioritize biomedical research to increase critical life-saving medical treatments and high-quality cures available to all Americans.

It’s time that every American family is affected not just by these diseases but also by the breakthrough research and treatments underway now and the amazing research to come.

Blunt is Missouri’s junior senator, serving since 2011. He sits on the Appropriations; the Commerce, Science and Transportation; and the Rules and Administration committees.

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Dec 08 2014

As we sink into the cold winter months, poor families and young people in our state are looking at their energy bills and trying to ensure they can enjoy the holidays with their families without having to worry about making ends meet. We need energy policies that bring economic relief to these families and young individuals, not policies that hurt them.

Oct 03 2014

As families in Missouri continue to recover from the economic recession, we need pro-growth policies that encourage innovation and put more Americans back to work. In Missouri, we’re fortunate to be home to world-class research institutions and innovative manufacturers, large and small, which are ideally situated to propel us forward in advanced manufacturing.