Yesterday, after introduction by the Republican majority, the House of Representatives approved HR 2005, the Combating Autism Reauthorization Act. The act was approved by Unanimous Consent.
The moment would have been cause for celebration, but the vote brought little relief to this community. Because in the Senate politics were, once again, taking center stage. Now, we watch from the cheap seats as politicians play a game of chicken with our children’s lives.
The following is my best attempt to transcribe Senator Menendez’s (D-NJ) remarks yesterday from the Senate floor regarding S.1094. (Click the link to see the video, which continues to include the objections from Senators DeMint and Coburn)
This legislation was reported out of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on September 7th without amendment and with unanimous support – Republicans and Democrats together. This result – the result of a bipartisan effort with Senator Enzi, who is the ranking member of the Health and Education, Labor Committee is vital to ensuring that the programs created on the landmark Combatting Autism Act of 2006 continue. That bill was signed into law by President George W. Bush after passing the Senate on a Unanimous Consent.
This long history of bipartisan support only adds to my confusion as to why there are colleagues on the other side of the aisle who are currently preventing the bill from passing. This legislation has unanimous support from Democrats and strong bipartisan support throughout the Senate, including nine Republican co-sponsors.
Without Senate approval, the Combating Autism Act will sunset at the end of next week, leaving countless families across our nation without the support they need in caring for their children with autism.**
This bill provides an additional three years of guarantees in terms of simply in the context of an authorization – obviously appropriation processes would have to go through the process and there would have to be debating and voting on the floor. But that authorization for three years at FY11 appropriated levels for the programs at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health and the Health, Resources and Services Administration are vital to continuing our efforts on diagnosing Autism Spectrum Disorder, advancing behavioral therapies to improve social abilities for those with autism, providing families with education and support services to better understand autism and to coordinating federal efforts on researching autism.
Now I’ve worked closely with Senator Enzi who has been a co-champion in this regard on this legislation to address all concerns. Since it cleared the Health, Education and Labor Committee with full bipartisan and unanimous support I thought we’d succeeded in addressing those concerns. I have not been approached or heard a single objection from any Republican as to why they might hold this bill and I have been open in my willingness to work with the other side in addressing their concerns with the bills policy.
Having not heard a single objection to the merits of this legislation – which, by the way, the exact replica is being offered by the Republican majority in the House* – I have to assume that this is for reasons other than policy. We’ve had a week to have the opportunity to bring this forward – it has caused incredible uncertainty and unnecessary worry for the parents of children with autism as they wait anxiously to learn if the government is going to continue to reauthorize the very essence of the programs that have helped their children be able to fulfill their God given potential to the maximum ability that they can.
I have met family after family for which this legislation has made an enormous difference in their lives. And I don’t understand any reason – considering all the work that has been done, considering the bipartisan support, considering that the House Republican majority is offering the same legislation – why we have been unable to pursue this.
So therefore Mr President, I ask Unanimous Consent of the Senate to proceed to the consideration of calendar #163 S 1094 The Combatting Autism Reauthorization Act that the bill be read a third time and pass the motion reconsidered be laid upon the table with no intervening action or debate.
Is there objection?
“Mr President, on behalf of myself and several colleagues, I object.” – Senator DeMint (R-SC)
Senator DeMint went on to say, “The lobby to support autism is definitely very strong and we appreciate that. But there are many, many diseases that children and people throughout our country face.”
While I understand the Senator’s concerns about ‘disease’-specific funding, I’d ask him to consider the following***.
- More children will be diagnosed with autism this year than with AIDS, diabetes & cancer combined
- Autism is the fastest-growing serious developmental disability in the U.S.
- Autism costs the nation over $35 billion per year, a figure expected to significantly increase in the next decade
- Autism receives approximately 5% of the government research funding of many less prevalent childhood diseases
This is not a typical 'disease', Senator. In fact, it's not a disease at all. It's triage. . Senator DeMint was joined in objection by his colleague, Senator Coburn (R-OK). Senator Coburn apparently wanted us all to know that he really 'gets' autism. To that end he said the following in his remarks. "As an obstetrician and pediatrician I've diagnosed [autism], I've treated it, I've set with the families as they've suffered through the consequences of this disease."
With all due respect to the Senator, I thank God he was neither my obstetrician nor my daughter’s pediatrician on many levels, but today I thank God more specifically that the doctors who do care for my family at the very least know that Autism is not a disease, but a neurological disorder. I dare not ask how he believes that he ‘treated’ autism.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve had far more than my fill of political brinksmanship on any topic. I cannot stomach the eleventh hour objections, the breathless negotiations, the reckless need for panicked stakeholders. Our children – and our nation – deserve better.
It takes thirty seconds to write to your Senators and tell them why this matters so much. I swear – it’s all set up for you. Thirty seconds, truly. It takes thirty more to share the info with everyone you know on Facebook and Twitter. Please, help us help our children. If not out of compassion, then for simple dollars and cents. Because we either provide services now or we support an entire generation of adults who have no prayer of living independently.
I’d say the choice is pretty clear, no matter which side of the aisle you may sit on.
* The House went on to pass their identical bill
** Emphasis mine
*** Statistics culled from various sources, cited here