House Republicans Announce Plans To Redirect Public Campaign Funds To Pediatric Research

04/02/2013 06:04 pm ET

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) has announced plans to introduce a bill that would redirect federal funds to pediatric research at the National Institutes of Health by eliminating public funding for presidential candidates and party conventions, The Hill reported Tuesday.

The bill -- titled the Kids First Research Act -- was unveiled on Tuesday in tandem with World Autism Awareness Day. Although the bill does not direct all funds to autism research, it would provide $200 million to the NIH, which allocates portions of its funding to autism research.

“House Republicans are focused on smart policy solutions that will help parents meet the needs of their families and help children live a life full of opportunity,” Cantor said in a statement. “Instead of spending millions of taxpayer dollars for presidential campaigns, these funds will be better spent helping find cures and treatments for pediatric diseases and disorders like autism.”

Current Federal Election Commission rules allow presidential candidates and political parties to tap into public campaign funding, in which the federal government funds election campaigns and party conventions through a voluntary taxpayer checkoff. Candidates who accept money from the public financing system are limited in the amount of money that they can both raise and spend. Neither President Barack Obama nor Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney used public funding for their 2012 campaigns.

Cantor’s bill would eliminate the public funding option entirely, forcing candidates and parties to raise funds solely through private donors.

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) -- who, along with Cantor and Rep. Gregg Harper (R-Miss.), is sponsoring the legislation -- says that diverting public presidential election funds to pediatric research is “a much better reflection of our national prerogatives.”

“Transforming welfare for politicians into efforts to eradicate this terrible disease is a much better reflection of our national prerogatives,” Cole said. “This legislation is an example of how much can be accomplished by ending wasteful spending and redirecting those funds toward urgent national priorities like the need to combat autism.”

According to Autism Speaks, an autism science and advocacy organization, autism affects one in 88 children in the United States and costs the average family $60,000 a year. The organization also says that, based off the 2012 NIH budget, only 0.55 percent -- or $169 million -- of NIH funding directly went to autism research.

The $200 million that would be restored to the NIH budget under Cantor’s legislation accounts for roughly 8 percent of the $1.6 billion cut last month from the NIH due to the sequester.

In February, former NIH director Elias Zerhouni warned that the across-the-board sequestration cuts would “impact science for generations to come.”

“Research is an investment, it’s not an expense,” Zerhouni told the Washington Post.

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