As the nation keeps its eyes warily on Washington, D.C. waiting to see whether or not the federal government will shut down at midnight tonight, an interesting thing happened in Congress Saturday afternoon. The House actually passed -- by a voice vote -- a bipartisan, bicameral, bill that will help save American lives.
H.R.3204, the Drug Quality and Security Act, addresses the failures that led to 2012's tragic fungal meningitis outbreak that killed 64 people and sickened over 750 across the U.S. This deadly outbreak was traced to tainted steroid injections produced by the New England Compounding Center, a compounding drug manufacturer. The bill that passed Saturday gives the Food and Drug Administration greater authority to oversee the compounding drug supply chain and to act to protect the American people before a critical problem arises.
The bill was the result of cooperative bipartisan negotiations in both chambers of Congress. Here in the House last fall, Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA) joined with me in holding hearings in the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations to determine what went wrong and what needed to be done to prevent future tragedies. Following our hearings, my colleagues Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA) and Rep. Gene Green (D-TX), and I began working cooperatively to develop legislation to change the system and prevent another tragic outbreak. At the same time, our colleagues in the U.S. Senate began a similar bipartisan process.
Through intensive bipartisan, bicameral negotiations throughout the August recess and into September, we crafted a bill that addressed the problems the outbreak revealed. In the end, we passed a bill that may not have been perfect or allowed everyone to get everything they wanted, but it is a bill that well-serves the American people. It was not easy. But it was the product of the deliberative negotiation process that every single one of us who bears the responsibility of governing should undertake.
Yet that duty -- the same duty that brought all of us to the table to tackle compounding drug safety -- seems to be absent as we appear to be sliding inexorably to the shutdown of the federal government and possibly to defaulting on our nation's debts soon thereafter.
A House Republican caucus battling internally, with an agenda being driven by its most extreme wing, has halted the deliberative process and made clear to the nation it has no interest in negotiating on budget matters. In fact, the House Republicans seem more committed to "burning down" our government than making it work for the American people.
Late Saturday night, as the clock to shutdown ticked down, we voted on yet another continuing resolution (CR) to keep the government running. The House majority knows full well this bill will never be signed into law. The bill includes delaying the Affordable Care Act for a year and limiting women's access to contraception, among other non-negotiable, egregious initiatives. With so little time left, presenting this CR made clear that the House GOP places its own extreme ideology over the good of the American people and over the economic security of our nation. In short, when it comes to negotiating over our fiscal challenges, House Republicans have one answer, and one answer only, "it is our way, or no way at all."
Yet the compounding drug bill that passed Saturday in the midst of this morass can act as a model for how we can hammer out a difficult compromise on an important issue. It proved that even in the fall of 2013, compromise in Congress is indeed possible. But parties have to be willing to come to the table in good faith for it to happen. I believe there are a number of Republicans willing to act in good faith, but they must reject the hostage-taking politics of their more extreme colleagues. Even on this weekend of dysfunction and brinkmanship, I spoke with a number of Republican friends who would like to strike a deal that prevents a shutdown and helps our economy; who recognize the value of negotiation and compromise; and who are tired of the intransigence themselves. I urge them to come forward and convince their leadership to negotiate as we have before.
Without a negotiated deal, less than 12 hours from now our government will fail our citizens as we are forced to shut down the resources, support, and infrastructure our nation relies upon. We stand on the brink of knowingly causing instability in the financial markets when the shutdown takes hold, even as we face a looming debt ceiling fight that could devastate our economy. It is time for cooler heads to prevail. It is time for the House Republican leadership to stop being held hostage by the ideological stubbornness of the Tea Party; and instead look to models of bipartisan negotiation. For centuries, during the most trying of times, this distinguished body has been able to negotiate and work across the aisle on behalf of the American people who sent us here. As we stand on the brink of economic crisis, it is time to put away ideology and work together as so many of us have proved we can, time and time again.