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Meet the Republican Crusaders for Cures

The ranks of the Republican cures crusade continue to swell. The newest soldier in this problem-solving army is Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.

Back in August, I noted that Republicans in Congress are stepping up to the issue of finding better treatment, or perhaps even a cure, for such terrible maladies as Alzheimer’s Disease and cancer.

In the House, Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan, chairman of the Energy & Commerce Committee, has advanced his 21st Century Cures Act, which passed the House by a wide margin in July.

Also in July, on the other side of the Capitol, Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi, chairman of the turbocharged National Republican Senatorial Committee, among other powerful posts,  introduced the EUREKA [Ensuring Useful Expenditures is the Key to Alzheimer’s] Act . Wicker, like Upton, is far more of a workhorse than a showhorse; perhaps that’s why the courtly Mississippian has already managed to gain 24 co-sponsors for his four-month-old bill.

At the same time, the Republican presidential candidates, too, are becoming energized on the cures issue.  In September, for Breitbart, I noted that White House hopeful Mike Huckabee has made cures a linchpin of his campaign.

Indeed, in the now-notorious CNBC debate in Colorado, Huckabee was emphatic on the cures issue. Responding to a question on Medicare from the network’s Becky Quick—in what is certain to be her first-and-last debate-moderating appearance—Huckabee answered:

Well, and specifically to Medicare, Becky, because 85 percent of the cost of Medicare is chronic disease. The fact is if we don’t address what’s costing so much, we can’t throw enough money at this. And it’s why I’ve continued to focus on the fact that we need to declare war on the four big cost drivers because 80 percent of all medical costs in this country are chronic disease.

Having made the point that we have to do something positive, Huckabee reminded viewers that the United States has history on its side; we have solved the problem of disease before—and thereby reaped huge economic, as well as humanitarian, benefits.  Thinking back to the Salk Vaccine of 1955, the Arkansan recalled:

Polio—when I was a little kid, we eradicated it. You know how much money we spent on polio last year in America? We didn’t spend any. We’ve saved billions of dollars.

And then he returned to the looming fiscal and human crisis of Medicare:

You want to fix Medicare? Focus on the diseases that are costing us the trillions of dollars.  Alzheimers, diabetes, heart disease and cancer.  Eradicate those and you fix Medicare and you’ve fixed America, its economy and you’ve made people’s lives a heck of a lot better.

Huckabee then summed it up, posing a question to those who have let themselves be preoccupied with health insurance at the expense of broader health concerns:

Why aren’t we talking about—instead of cutting benefits for old people, cutting benefits for sick people—why don’t we say, “Let’s cure the four big cost-driving diseases?”

Now, vastly strengthening the effort, here comes an even bigger name in the GOP these days, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas; Cruz is running third in the latest Fox News presidential poll, behind only Donald Trump and Ben Carson.

In the healthcare arena, Cruz is best known, of course, as perhaps America’s most vociferous opponent of Obamacare—or, as he likes to call it, “the train wreck of Obamacare.”

Yes, Cruz’s bona fides as a resolute opponent of Obamacare, or anything that smacks of Big Government, are sterling.

Yet at the same time, the Texan knows that Americans do not live by libertarian limited government alone.

In July, in his capacity as chairman of the Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness, Cruz chaired a fact-finding Capitol Hill hearing, “Unlocking Cures for America’s Most Deadly Diseases.”

Three months later, in October, having distilled the lessons he learned from that hearing and other research, Cruz spoke to the American Academy of Pharmaceutical Scientists, meeting in St. Louis, and declared, “We need a supply side revolution that spurs medical innovation.”

Indeed, in an extended paean to discovery throughout American history, Cruz added:

America has always been a pioneering place.  The first light bulb, telephone, airplane, and smart phone were all created in America.  The same has been true in medical innovation.

But, the junior senator from Texas continued, medical innovation, in particular, is being crushed.  And a principal culprit in this crushing is the Food and Drug Administration.   Laws and regulations that may have been put in place with the best of intentions are now having a deadly impact.

As Cruz put it, far too many medical researchers and entrepreneurs are “being denied the opportunity to save lives today.”  Continuing, he added:

As economist Alex Tabarrok  so aptly etched into the American imagination, there lies within our cities and towns an invisible graveyard.  While they keep stealing the lives of our loved ones who fall victim to uncured diseases like Alzheimer’s, cancer, and Parkinson’s.  Never know how many could have been saved through breakthrough research.  But we can work to save millions who otherwise would fall prey to those diseases.  We need to open a new era of medical innovation.

Later in October, Cruz published an equally detailed article in National Review, “Let’s Revive America’s Culture of Cures,” in which he asserted:

We need to tear down the barriers blocking a new era of medical innovation, and the primary inhibitor is the government itself. Right now, the Food and Drug Administration stifles new treatments, operates with decades-old methodology, and discourages scientific development.

We might observe that the proof that Cruz is right about the FDA comes from the FDA’s own data: While drug approvals have upticked in the last few years, approvals are fewer today than they were two decades ago. We can add that it’s hard to think of anything else in the economy, or in the tech sector, that is worse today than it was in the mid-90s.  And the same disappointing story, or worse, could be told for medical devices and antibiotics.

And since Cruz is a sitting senator, he can do things; nothing happens easily in Washington these days, but alongside his fellow lawmakers, Upton and Wicker, Cruz has started the ball rolling.

As an aside, we can note with wonder the curious case of Dr. Ben Carson.

As a former onetime neurosurgeon who saved many a life, Carson would seem to be the obvious and most effectiv Republican champion of a Cure Strategy. Yet instead, he is trapped in a no-win “gotcha” game, defending himself against charges that he wants to abolish Medicare. And his defense is not being helped by the fact that he indeed has called for abolishing Medicare, and still wants to.

Whatever the merits of this idea in the mind of a purist, in the minds of real people it’s pure poison.

So now we might look ahead: Where will this “Cures Crusade” take us? And crucially, what are its implications for the overall healthcare system?

We can start by considering what is still the hottest health issue for Republicans—Obamacare. Virtually all Republicans are united in strong opposition to Obamacare; indeed, staunch opposition helped the Party win the House in 2010 and the Senate in 2014. (The GOP seemed to take a detour in 2012.)

Yet as we look ahead, we can see that Obamacare will be hard to repeal, even if the GOP wins the White House next year. And why is that?  Well, for openers, Republicans have yet to a agree on a formula for “repeal and replace.” In fact, it’s perfectly evident that “repeal and replace” gets harder with each passing year, as the system adjusts, however painfully and fitfully, to the new bureaucratic burden.

Moreover, for further perspective on repealing the Democrats’ handiwork, we might think back on the Department of Education. The DOE was established in 1979, and Ronald Reagan pledged to abolish it in his triumphant 1980 campaign for the White House. Yet once in office, President Reagan was stymied by the legislative challenge of finding an acceptable replacement model. So even though the Gipper won two consecutive national elections in landslides, carrying a total of 93 states and earning more than 1000 electoral votes, he still couldn’t find a “repeal and replace” formula for that meddlesome department.

Thus the fate of the Department of Education—still going strong, bigger than ever, four decades after its creation—should serve as a cautionary tale for Republicans as they plot the fate of Obamacare. As GOPers look ahead with hope to a right-leaning 45th president, they might reflect that the Party will have to hit on all cylinders to make “repeal and replace” a reality. With that in mind, all Republicans might wish to broaden the argument over health policy to include cures; after all, while not everyone wants to repeal national health insurance, everyone does wish to be cured of dreaded disease.

In other words, the Cure Strategy, as advanced by such visionary leaders as Upton, Wicker, Huckabee, and Cruz, offers a potential booster for the GOP’s political and legislative success.

Today, all Americans instinctively yearn for a future of medical innovation and transformation. And so Republican activists ought seriously to consider a plan for giving Americans what they want; after all, medical cures raise all boats. Indeed, as GOPers seek that frustratingly elusive national majority—the Party has obtained a majority of the vote only in one of the last six presidential elections—activists ought to be thinking fresh, vote-enticing thoughts.  They should be thinking, not just about “repeal and replace,” but, rather, repeal and transcend.

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