BREAKTHROUGHS BLOG

October 29, 2014

How the upcoming election could impact global health R&D

Senior Policy and Advocacy Associate
GHTC

As candidates make their final pitches, volunteers canvas like crazy, and pollsters make their predictions, GHTC is taking a look at what the outcomes of next week’s election could mean for global health research and development (R&D).

With every member of the House of Representatives and a third of the Senate up for re-election, there will undoubtedly be some big changes ahead. Here are the potential changes we’re tracking:

The House will remain red, but changes expected in key committee membership

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While Republicans are expected to retain their House leadership, there will still be changes in membership on key committees. Photo: Slack12

There’s no question that Republicans will retain their leadership in the House. While the House will likely see less drastic changes than the Senate, there will be changes to membership and leadership of a number of the Committees that have jurisdiction over both policy and funding for global health R&D.

Foreign Affairs Committee:

Although the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) won’t see major changes in leadership, we already know that Representatives Tom Cotton (R-AR)—currently in a tight run with incumbent Senator Mark Pryor for a seat in the Senate—and Steve Stockman (R-TX)—who lost his primary in a bid to replace Senator Cornyn (R-TX)—won’t be returning. HFAC members facing tough races include Representatives Brad Schneider (D-IL) and Ami Bera (D-CA). Bera—who sits on the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, and Human Rights and is a trained physician—has been an outspoken advocate for global health.

Appropriations Committee:

Similar to the HFAC, the Appropriations Committee isn’t likely to see significant changes in leadership, although there will be some notable faces missing from the 2015 roster. Representative Jack Kingston (R-GA)—current chairman of the Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, which appropriates funds for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)—gave up his seat in a failed bid for the Senate and will not be returning to the 115th Congress. Representatives Tom Womack (R-AZ)—current committee vice chair—or Tom Cole (R-OK) are rumored to be the top candidates to take over the chairmanship. Also missing due to retirement will be Representatives Frank Wolf (R-VA), Tom Latham (R-IA), Jim Moran (D-VA), Ed Pastor (D-AZ), and Bill Owens (D-NY).

Energy and Commerce Committee:

With jurisdiction over the NIH, CDC, and FDA, the Energy and Commerce Committee (E&C) plays an important role in issues relating to global health R&D, particularly as the Ebola crisis has thrust the CDC into the global spotlight. After twenty terms in Congress, E&C Ranking Member Henry Waxman (D-CA) will be retiring. Representatives Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Anna Eshoo (D-CA) are both vying for the role, with the loser likely taking the role of ranking member on the Health Subcommittee—a position currently held by Rep. Pallone.

Of course there’s no knowing until Election Day how things will actually shake-up in the House. After that, it’s up to members to make the case to House leadership for their desired and priority committee assignments. With a possibility for run-off races continuing after November 4, it’s likely that committee rosters won’t be finalized until February 2015.

The Senate is leaning red; could mean major shift in key committee leadership

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Recent polls indicate the odds are in favor of a Republic-controlled Senate. Photo: Joe Shlabotnik

The Senate is where things get interesting and where we’ll likely see the greatest change. Recent polls are consistent in their predictions that the odds are in favor of a Republican-controlled Senate; currently Democrats have 55 seats and Republicans have 45. If Republicans do take the majority, we will see a huge shift in committee leadership as Republicans take hold of coveted chairmanship positions.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee:

With six committee members up for reelection—one Republican and five Democrats—five are expected to hold on to their seats with the only toss-up race being Senator Jeanne Shaheen’s (D-NH) seat. If Republicans take the Senate, current Ranking Member Bob Corker (R-TN) will likely become the chairman. Otherwise, the chairmanship will likely be kept by Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ).

Senate Appropriations Committee:

Of the 14 members of this committee that are up for re-election, 5 of them are currently toss-up races. An additional three—Senators Mike Johanns (R-NE), Tim Johnson (D-SD), and Tom Harkin (D-IA)—previously announced their retirement and won’t be returning for the new session of Congress. As the chairman of the Labor, Health, and Human Services Subcommittee, Senator Harkin’s departure is notable. His role will likely be filled by current Ranking Member Jerry Moran (R-KS), or if Democrats hold their seats, by Senator Patty Murray (D-WA)—a huge champion for global health R&D and the lead Senate sponsor of the 21st Century Global Health Technology Act. If Republicans win, other notable changes in leadership would likely include Senators Lindsay Graham (R-SC) chairing the Foreign Operations and Related Programs Subcommittee, Thad Cochran (R-MS) chairing the Defense Subcommittee, and Richard Shelby (R-AL) chairing the full committee. If there is a change in Senate leadership as expected, committee breakdowns will change to reflect the balance between Republicans and Democrats. For the Appropriations Committee, this could result in junior members—like staunch global health advocate Senator Chris Coons (D-DE)—losing their seats on the committee.

Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee:

With current committee Chairman Tom Harkin retiring, the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee will see new leadership regardless of the election outcome. Current Ranking Member Lamar Alexander (R-TN) is likely to take the role if Republicans gain critical mass. If not, Senator Murray is rumored to be the top choice for chairman—otherwise she will likely become ranking member.

What’s next?

What does all this mean for the future of global health R&D? While it’s impossible to fully predict election outcomes, the future will become much clearer in the coming days (unless of course run-offs or recounts keep us waiting). As the new Congress convenes in January, it will be critical for global health R&D advocates to educate new members and their staff on the importance of continued funding and strong polices to support the development of new health tools to meet the needs of the developing world. For real-time election analysis, check out Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEightPolitics, Politico’s Election Central, or The Washington Post’s Election Lab.

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