July 28, 2014


Congress Set to Leave a Full Plate

Congress loves a deadline. But this year, even that may not be enough. With just a week left before the start of a five-week August recess, it is increasingly likely that Congress will wrap up for the summer having cobbled together only the bare minimum to keep the government functioning without addressing a list of expiring laws and a pileup of potential national crises. (Wall Street Journal - July 27, 2014)

Senate Appropriators Release Draft FY15 Labor-HHS Spending Bill

The Senate Appropriations Committee Democratic leadership July 24 released the Labor-HHS Appropriations Subcommittee's FY 2015 draft spending bill and report language. The Labor-HHS Subcommittee June 10 approved the bill, but consideration by the full Senate Appropriations Committee was indefinitely postponed shortly after the markup. Given the limited time in session before the start of the next fiscal year on Oct. 1, lawmakers are expected to consider a continuing resolution extending funding for discretionary programs through the November elections. (Association of American Medical Colleges - July 25, 2014)

Senator Harkin Introduces Bill to Restore Purchasing Power of NIH

Senator Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor-HHS-Education, introduced legislation on July 24 aimed at restoring the buying power of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The Senator's press release notes that after Congress doubled the NIH budget between 1998 and 2003, "austere budget caps" led to a 20-percent erosion in the agency's purchasing power for biomedical research. The bill seeks to reverse that trend by instituting a budget cap adjustment that gives priority to NIH over the remaining fiscal years of the Budget Control Act.  (Association of American Universities - July 25, 2014)

Deal Struck on VA Reform Bill

Leaders in the House and Senate have reached a deal on legislation to reform the Veterans Affairs (VA) Department and are poised to unveil it on Monday. Michael Briggs, a spokesman for Sen Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., told The Hill in an email that an agreement has been reached that will "deal with both the short-term and long-term needs of the VA." The VA bill appeared in doubt last week as Sanders and Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla. -- the chairmen of the two Veterans Affairs' committees -- butted heads over rival proposals. But they kept talking over the weekend, and on Sunday suggested a deal was at hand. (The Hill - July 27, 2014)

E&C 21st Century Cures Roundtables Continue

The House Energy and Commerce (E&C) Subcommittee on Health July 23 held a roundtable discussion to explore personalized medicine. The roundtable, part of the committee's 21st Century Cures initiative, featured participants from agency, academia, and the private sector who discussed how advances in areas such as genomic sequencing and diagnostic testing can accelerate the pace of cures. (Ad Hoc Group for Biomedical Research - July 25, 2014)

Student Debt on Campaign Trail

[S]tudent debt remains a hot topic in Washington. And even without the drama of a presidential contest, the issue is cropping up on the 2014 campaign trail in some of the most contentious Senate races. Since holding a vote on their student loan refinancing plan last month, many Senate Democrats have been promoting the plan across the country. Most visibly, the proposal's main architect, Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, has traveled to West Virginia and Kentucky in recent weeks to campaign for Democratic candidates for Senate. (Inside Higher Ed - July 28, 2014)

DOD Tightens Tuition Assistance Rules

Force-wide changes to the military's Tuition Assistance (TA) program may require troops to pay back their TA money if they perform poorly in class. Service members taking undergraduate courses will have to achieve a grade of C or higher, and those taking graduate-level classes must obtain a grade of B or higher, or else they will be subject to "recoupment" and may have to pay out-of-pocket cash retroactively for the class's costs, according to an internal policy change that Defense Department officials approved July 7 but did not publicly announce. (Military Times - July 25, 2014)

NIH Programs to Focus on Emerging Areas of Science

Scientific areas ripe for targeted investments in technology development and research to improve health are the focus of new programs of the National Institutes of Health's Common Fund. The programs include work to facilitate the study of how sugar modifications affect proteins, to understand the arrangement of DNA within cells in four dimensions, and to enable the development of new therapies that allow control of organ function through manipulation of nerves. (National Institutes of Health - July 25 ,2014)

Lessons Learned From 2011 Fukushima Nuclear Accident

A new congressionally mandated report from the National Academy of Sciences concludes that the overarching lesson from the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident is that nuclear plant licensees and regulators must actively seek out and act on new information about hazards with the potential to affect the safety of nuclear plants. The committee that wrote the report examined the causes of the accident and made recommendations for improving nuclear plant safety and offsite emergency responses to nuclear plant accidents in the U.S. (National Academies - July 24, 2014)


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