Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
July 24, 2014

The New GOP: Kids Before Conventions

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s latest effort at a new-look Republican Party will come in the form of a bill that would fund pediatric research in an unconventional way, the Virginian’s office announced Tuesday.

The Kids First Research Act would repurpose federal money used to finance the Democratic and Republican political conventions and publicly finance presidential campaigns and would instead use the resources to fund research into autism and other childhood diseases.

“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,” Cantor said in a statement.

The bill would move the $100 million in 10-year funding to the National Institutes of Health Common Fund but allow the expenditure to sunset after 2023. The legislation will be co-sponsored by Rep. Gregg Harper, R-Miss., who has a child with fragile-x syndrome, a common genetic syndrome that can cause autism and mental retardation.

“It is something that makes sense. We have a lot of families that deal with various pediatric problems,” Harper said in an interview. “It’s important to do something that will give some hope to some of these families.”

It remains to be seen, however, whether the plan will pass muster in the House. Republicans have long stressed reducing wasteful spending to pay down the debt. Democrats, meanwhile, have been hesitant to cut public financing of conventions and campaigns for fear of greater corporate influence.

Harper said that although it is possible that the bill could have its detractors on both sides, he is hopeful it could pass with help from both parties.

“You never know until everyone has a chance to look at it, but I do have a lot of optimism that in a bipartisan way you could pass this,” he said.

The idea of eliminating taxpayer funding for conventions and presidential campaigns is not a new one. In fact, Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., the bill’s other co-sponsor, has introduced similar legislation, and he penned an op-ed in U.S. News & World Report last year calling for Congress to do just that.

Cole made no mention of repurposing taxpayer money for political conventions in the op-ed, instead tying the idea of eliminating the expenditure to paying down the debt.

“In a time of record deficits, persistent unemployment, and a $16 trillion national debt, it’s hard to find a more frivolous waste of taxpayer money,” he wrote at the time.

Cole was not immediately available for comment.

The announcement comes on World Autism Day and is part of Cantor’s effort to move the GOP beyond just budget talk, which he laid out in a speech at the American Enterprise Institute earlier this year.

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