Thank you, Mr. President.
I'm glad to be here with my colleagues today to have a chance to talk about the 21st Century Cures Bill. On Monday I came to the Senate floor to speak against a deal that was emerging in the House of Representatives around this bill. Now when congress first started working on this proposal two years ago, the idea was for Democrats and Republicans to work together to improve medical innovation and access to lifesaving cures. And for two years lots of people worked really hard on that effort. We had a chance to bring down the skyrocketing costs of prescription drugs. We had a chance to support medical research so we could start to cure diseases like Alzheimer’s and diabetes. We had a chance to help coal miners whose health care is on the ropes and who are running out of time.
Unfortunately, the Cures Bill introduced in the house last week doesn't do any of those things. Instead it was a typical Washington deal, a deal that ignored what voters want and held a bunch of commonsense, bipartisan health proposals hostage unless congress also agreed to pass a giant give-away to drug companies.
So how did this happen? Lobbyists. Kaiser health news estimated that the new Cures Bill has generated more lobbying than almost all of the 11,000 bills that have been proposed during this Congress. At one point there were about three lobbyists for every single member of congress. And every one of those lobbyists wanted favors, and wow, did they get some doozies here.
A provision to make it easier for drug companies to commit off-label marketing fraud, taking pills that are approved for one use and using them for a whole lot of other purposes without any evidence that it's either safe or effective. A provision making it easier for drug companies to hide the gifts they give to doctors who prescribe certain drugs, a giveaway to a major Super PAC donor who stands to benefit financially from pushing regenerative therapies through FDA even if they don't meet the FDA's gold standard for safety and effectiveness. This bill isn't about doing what the American people want. This bill is about doing what drug companies and donors want, and on Monday, I made it clear that I oppose this.
Since then, two things have happened. First, since Monday, the public has gotten wind of this deal, and they don't like it. In the last 24 hours, more than 100,000 people have signed petitions calling on Congress just to reject the deal. And second, since Monday, we've seen the bill change a little. Last night, after they got some heat, the House took out the provision letting drug companies hide kickbacks to donors. Good. You know, I guess they were having a hard time explaining to anybody why it made any sense to help drug companies cover up bribery. The lobbyists are disappointed about that, but they are still pushing for the bill because even though the kickbacks are out, letting drug companies get away with fraud is still in.
Now, giveaways are bad in this bill, but that is not the only thing that's a problem with this bill. What's not in the bill also hurts. 70 years ago, Congress promised to provide for the health and welfare of American coal miners and their families, and now 120,000 coal miners, their widows and their families will see massive cuts to their health benefits and retirement pensions. Why? Because the bipartisan Mine Workers Protection Act was left out of this bill, and without it, 12,500 coal miners will lose their health insurance on December 31st of this year. Another 10,000 will lose their coverage next year, and on and on into the future.
Mr. President, according to exit polls, 70% of voters say they think the American economy and the lawmakers who oversee it are owned, owned by big companies and special interests. Bills like the 21st century cures act are the reason why. There is so much that we could do with this bill. You know, this congress could step up for thousands of American coal miners. For their entire lives, these coal miners have sacrificed everything, for their families, for their communities and for this country, and they have literally sacrificed their health. They are running out of time, and we could help.
This Congress could step up to help millions of people who are struggling with exploding drug prices. We could help bring down the cost of drugs. This congress could step up to help the millions of families who have been touched by Alzheimer’s, diabetes, cancer and other deadly diseases, and we could help by providing more funding for the research that would generate real cures. This Congress could step up to deal with drug companies that think they're above the law. Giant corporations that think they can break the rules and then get Congress to do special favors for them. We can just say no, that's not what we are in business to do.
The American people are not clamoring for the Cures Bill, at least not this version. Tens of thousands of people have asked us not to pass it. Even the conservative group Heritage Action Fund for America has come out strongly against this deal. Now, I don't agree with all of their objections, but they explain -- quote -- "in Washington terms, backroom negotiators have turned the Cures Bill into a Christmas tree loaded with handouts for special interests, all at the expense of the taxpayer.” Boy, got that one right.
This kind of backroom dealing that helps those with money and connections and leaves scraps for everyone else is why people hate Washington, and it is the reason I will oppose this bill.
Thank you, Mr. President.