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.

Aug 04 2014

Whether we’re talking about President Barack Obama’s threats to take executive action on immigration, the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) blatant executive regulatory overreach, or Health and Human Services (HHS) cherry-picking which ObamaCare provisions to enforce and which to delay – this president and his administration have a very bad habit of ignoring the law and the Constitution.

May 14 2014

National parks are valuable assets that help states attract visitors, grow local economies, and create jobs.

It was good to learn that Vice President Joe Biden and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell would be visiting the Arch.

In the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014, Congress encouraged the use of public-private partnerships in the operation of land management agencies, including the National Park Service.

No project is a better illustration of this goal than the CityArchRiver 2015 project right here in St. Louis.

The Gateway Arch attracts thousands of visitors from all over the world each week, and many of the surrounding businesses thrive off the tourism it brings to St. Louis and the region. I was recently there with the Australian ambassador to the U.S.

The $380 million CityArchRiver 2015 project will create a “Park Over The Highway” — allowing pedestrians to traverse the highway that runs in between downtown and Arch grounds. CityArchRiver is a public-private partnership that would fund the construction project through a regional and state partnership involving several agencies, as well as money collected from the new park sales tax approved by voters last year.

The project is the first in the history of NPS with a significant local tax contribution and private donations on and adjacent to NPS grounds. Supported by approximately 85 percent private and local funds and 15 percent federal, the Arch project is one of the largest joint partnership projects in the history of the park Service. The obstacles appear to be about 100 percent federal.

During a U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearing for the Interior Department on May 7, 2013, U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Jewell said she was willing to look at public-private partnerships “in a different way” in order to encourage all partners to collaborate and work together to successfully move projects forward.

While I appreciate that the park service is in agreement with this goal, words must be put into action. Schedule delays because of slow legal reviews or document processing slow down the project considerably.

Oct. 28, 2015, marks the 50th anniversary of the laying of the keystone of the Arch, and the key date for construction of the new project. However, current proposed schedule changes will delay the Arch project by two months up to one year, which could result in added costs of up to $8.7 million.

One of the project’s latest perils concerns the NPS’s lack of understanding regarding the need for donor recognition.

A meaningful and effective donor recognition program expresses appreciation, acknowledges donor commitment to current and future needs of the park, and leads to future and increased levels of support. Current NPS policy outlines that donor recognition should not commercialize the project, compete with the park’s purpose, or interfere with the quality of the visitor experience. I agree.

However, this policy should not be interpreted in an overly restrictive way that inhibits the full potential of donor contributions. Often, donors are not likely to want recognition that has any impact on the site.

Since Congress created the National Park Service on Aug. 25, 1916, the donations of philanthropists and private contributions have been vital to the park system. In fact, nearly half of the cost to repair 2011 earthquake damage to the recently reopened Washington Monument was donated by a private donor.

Public-private partnerships must respect how private philanthropy expects contributions to be recognized, invested and overseen.

Additionally, donors expect their contributions to be handled prudently to benefit the project. The use of an escrow funding arrangement with a third party could encourage the leveraging of federal dollars with more philanthropic dollars and give confidence that donor contributions will be managed wisely and held strictly for the purposes intended.

It’s time we revisit NPS practices requiring the deposit of donations directly into the U.S. Treasury before the advertisement of bids and the prohibition on third party escrows of the fund.

The CityArchRiver project can be a prototype for the next 100 years of how the national park system should work — through partners that have more invested than the government does.

The site serves as a model of public-private partnership greatly contributing to the Gateway Arch experience, not only for the people of St. Louis, but for visitors around the world.

It is through the success of collaborative efforts like this that we can prolong the legacy of America’s national parks for future generations, while benefiting the economic health of communities and states across the country. 

U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., currently serves on the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior.

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May 12 2014

As families in Missouri and nationwide mark National Mental Health Awareness Month in May, approximately one in four adults suffers from a diagnosable mental illness nationwide, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Unfortunately, many don’t receive the care they need. 

We were reminded of this important challenge last month during the devastating events at Fort Hood, Texas. As Commanding General Mark Milley noted in the aftermath of this tragedy, the suspect reportedly sought help for mental illness, and he had a medical history indicating an “unstable psychiatric or psychological condition” that investigators believe to be a “fundamental underlying factor” in this catastrophe. Army Secretary John McHugh also told Congress the suspect was undergoing treatment for depression, anxiety, and sleep disturbances. 

There’s no doubt that our military bases on American soil should be the safest place possible for our servicemen and women and for their loved ones. Fort Hood was a terrible loss for all Americans, especially for those who are willing to serve and for their families. In the weeks following, I visited General Leonard Wood Army Hospital (GLWACH) to learn more about the military’s mental health services, and I continue to talk to military leaders in Missouri and in Washington as part of my role on the Senate’s defense authorizing and appropriations committees. My goal is to work with our nation’s military leaders to guarantee our servicemen and women, veterans, and military families have access to quality behavioral health treatment – before a mental health crisis takes a terrible turn for the worst. 

As part of those efforts, I recently introduced the bipartisan “Caring For America’s Heroes Act” to bring treatment for mental illness in-line with the way physical illnesses are treated for military retirees and their families under TRICARE. I also joined my colleague Senator Debbie Stabenow (Mich.) to successfully pass a version of the “Excellence in Mental Health Act” last month to help address the nation’s fragmented mental health system. This provision establishes two-year pilot programs in eight states to expand access to community mental health services. The original legislation garnered broad support, with 25 Senators co-sponsoring and endorsements from more than 50 mental health, veteran, and law enforcement groups. 

Mental illness is just that: an illness. As we recognize National Mental Health Awareness Month, I hope my colleagues will join me in working to improve our nation’s policies. We must start treating behavioral health like physical health if we’re going to expand access and reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness.

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Mar 10 2014

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) recently took to the Senate floor and said, "There's plenty of horror stories being told [about ObamaCare]. All of them are untrue. But they're being told all over America."

Every day, Missourians contact me to share their stories about the real impact of this flawed law. And almost every week, I have gone to the Senate floor to read directly from the hundreds of letters, emails, and calls that I've received from Missourians who continue to say ObamaCare is hurting them.

Christina from Lee's Summit, Mo.: "I am a recently divorced mother of two, going to school and working 25 hours per week as a server. Currently, my employer gives me full benefits, including medical that has a benefit maximum for the year of 10k in coverage. I had a baby in 2013 on this plan and have still not maxed it out, but next year they can't offer me this plan because it is against the new law to have an annual benefit maximum.... After having to go to a news outlet for help, I was able to find coverage, but it was very confusing and still A LOT higher deductible. I go from $100 a year to $2500 just for my daughter's coverage. This is definitely not helping me in any way."

Jeanna from Kansas City, Mo.: "I have a birth defect and over the last 13 years have needed a total hip replacement plus a hip revision to correct it. I've always had health insurance for me and my family. After 2014, I won't. I lost my job two years ago and my husband has been working, but not in his field of expertise. We've had individual policies through Blue Cross, but after this year the policies won't be available. My husband has looked into the health exchange and the policies will be more expensive for us each month plus our deductible will be higher. At this rate we won't be able to afford health insurance in our current situation. I want to go back to the old system!"

Pat from Kansas City, Mo.: "Our oldest daughter's family has seen an increase of over $5,000 per year in their medical insurance. Where they were paying a yearly expense of $5,000, now they will be paying $10,000... How does a one-income salary budget continue to keep the family unit together with mom staying at home raising the children?... To add to our concern is that our other daughter has no idea how much her health care will cost come the end of this year because her employer was given the ObamaCare delay. Limbo is not an easy place to live in, especially, when you have responsibilities and a budget to plan to meet those responsibilities."

Shawn from Independence, Mo.: "My private health care policy premium will be going up about 40 percent as of January of 2014. I checked the health care website and found out that 1) I would not qualify for any subsidies 2) my premiums would be about double what they are now and 3) my deductible would be over twice as much... I am scratching my head trying to figure out where the word 'Affordable' comes in the ACA. Needless to say, I am remaining with my current health insurance provider, but I am concerned that the costs will continue to rise. I have since taken on a part time job in addition to my full time job to help offset the additional expense."

Jack from Kansas City, Mo.: "I'm a retired hospital CEO and glad to be retired because of ObamaCare. In most communities in Missouri the hospital is not only a source of pride and place for healing, it's also a major employer. It has the impact of Medicare's reimbursement cuts on revenue, the uncertainty of patients' insurance status, and the employer costs of providing employee health benefits. Most businesses have the employee related issues with ObamaCare. Hospitals have their operating cost increasing while their revenue decreasing. The potential end result will be more compromises to care, lowered expectations, fewer jobs-fewer paid hours, and a major community employer being hit on all sides thanks to ObamaCare."

These and other Missourians are being hurt by President Obama's health care law. Does Leader Reid truly believe Missourians are making up these stories?

It's time for us to work together to repeal ObamaCare and replace it with common-sense health care solutions that put people in charge of their coverage -- not Washington officials like Leader Reid, who thinks these "horror stories" are all "untrue."

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Oct 31 2013

Since World War II, the United States military has maintained the most powerful force the world has ever seen. This unprecedented military power kept us safe during the Cold War and eventually brought the Soviet Union to its knees; it is enabling us to track down and defeat terrorists halfway around the globe, and it keeps the peace today by forcing rogue regimes to think twice before they make a single move.

We owe our troops a debt of gratitude for preserving this peace through strength each and every day. But we also owe them something else: a commitment to provide them with the tools they need to execute their critical mission defending America. For years, America’s aerospace industry has kept our military force on the cutting edge, armed with technologies no other nation can match.

Today, we are forced to make difficult federal budget decisions. However, those decisions should not put Washington at risk of breaching this sacred promise. In an environment where cost and schedule overruns are too common, the F/A-18 is a model defense program; delivered on-cost and ahead of schedule, it has the lowest per-hour operating cost of any aircraft in the Department of Defense’s inventory and continues to evolve to defeat threats and incorporate innovative capabilities. The latest proposed evolution, the Advanced Super Hornet, will affordably meet the full spectrum of current and future threats.

Unfortunately, without additional orders from the Pentagon, Super Hornet production may end in 2016. This decision would guarantee a production gap for at least three years, when the Navy’s new Joint Strike fighter is set to begin production at a full rate. This is more than just a disturbing bit of military trivia. It could lead to a shortfall in Navy fighter jets, leaving many American aircraft carriers without combat aircraft — like a bow without arrows.

Headquartered in Berkeley and as one of the largest employers in the St. Louis area with 15,000 workers, Boeing’s Defense, Space and Security division represents a critical component of both our national security and the local economy. If the Super Hornet production line ends, there will be an impact on 90,000 workers who contribute to the program in St. Louis and nationwide, and there will be a loss of $6 billion that the program contributes annually to America’s economy. It could launch a “brain drain” in tactical aviation as experienced personnel transition to other industries. That loss could cripple the ability of the defense industry to design and produce the next generation of programs like the Long Range Strike Bomber to follow the B-2, or the Navy’s next advanced strike fighter planned to be produced in the middle of this century.

Closing the F/A-18 line would also leave a sole-source fighter jet industrial base, with no competition to bring down costs or to generate innovative technology breakthroughs. This is not how the U.S. has stayed at the forefront of military technology. And it would be a serious mistake to change our approach now.

For these reasons, the Senate Appropriations Committee, on which I serve, included funding to encourage the Navy to keep the F/A-18 line open next year and beyond. I will continue to fight for this as we finalize a budget. Even at a time of shrinking DOD budgets, we must find a way to preserve our industrial base, so workers in St. Louis and around the country can continue to support our military with the best fighter jets in the world now and well into the future. This commitment is essential to our men and women in uniform as well as to global security.

U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt is a Republican from Springfield, Mo.

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