The 115th Congress and Global Health: Senate Appropriations gets new members with range of stances, involvement in disease responses

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The 115th Congress began on January 3rd, 2017, bringing new members to House and Senate committees addressing global health policies and funding. Science Speaks introduces you to those members in this series.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) – The junior Senator from Florida, Sen. Rubio joined the Senate in 2010, having represented his Miami district in the Florida state legislature from 2000 to 2008. Sen. Rubio will continue to serve on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for the fourth consecutive Congress and on its Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health Policy, which has jurisdiction over U.S. foreign assistance programs and health-related policy, including disease outbreaks and responses. In 2015, Sen. Rubio introduced legislation to ban travelers to the United States from Ebola-affected countries, a move public health experts and officials considered counterproductive to efforts to control that epidemic. Sen. Rubio  has pushed back against funding cuts for the Presidents Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, and after suspending his 2016 Presidential campaign in March, voiced strong support for President Obama’s February Zika emergency funding request.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) – Elected to the Senate in 2010 to fill the seat of the late Senator Robert Byrd, Sen. Manchin is now the senior senator from West Virginia. Sen. Manchin served as Governor of West Virginia from 2005 to 2010, and prior to that served as Secretary of State of West Virginia from 2001 to 2005. He is considered a conservative-leaning Democrat, with speculation that he would switch parties during the 2016 election cycle. Sen. Manchin stood with fellow Democrats in opposing the Republican Zika funding bill in July that would have drawn on Affordable Care Act funds, blocked funding to Planned Parenthood and provided  $800 million less than the Obama administration is sought. The Senator maintains he is committed to bipartisanship and was ranked the fourth most bipartisan Senator in the 114th Congress. Not without controversy, Sen. Manchin is reported to have strong ties to the coal industry and has supported President-elect Trump’s pick to head the Environmental Protection Agency. While his daughter Heather Bresch, is CEO of the pharmaceutical company Mylan, which markets an opioid drug (and which hiked the price of the EpiPen by 400 percent last year), in the face of West Virginia’s opioid addiction epidemic, Sen. Manchin urged the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to upgrade restrictions on hydrocodone drugs. The Senator also has noted the impact of the state’s opioid epidemic and rising rates of hepatitis B and C.

Sen. John Kennedy (R-Louisiana) – Senator Kennedy is a former Louisiana State Treasurer who defeated his Democratic opponent in a run-off election in December, clinching control of the Senate for Republicans who have a 52-48 advantage over Democrats. Kennedy held a number of posts in the Louisiana government before winning Senator David Vitter’s former Senate seat, including Secretary of the State Department of Revenue. First elected as Louisiana State Treasurer while running as a Democrat in 1999, Kennedy held the position for 16 years. While widely regarded now as a “fiscal hawk,” Sen. Kennedy was a Democrat for much of his political career before switching to the Republican party in 2007, was a strong supporter of President-elect Trump in 2016, and has taken stances both for and against abortion rights.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Maryland) – Prior to replacing Sen. Barbara Mikulski, Sen. Van Hollen represented Maryland’s 8th district in the U.S. House of Representatives from 2003 to 2016. Before serving in Congress, Sen. Van Hollen served in the Maryland State Senate from 1995 to 2003 and in the Maryland House of Delegates from 1991 to 1995. During his time in the House, Van Hollen joined House colleagues in signing onto Congressional sign on letters on child survival funding, support for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, bilateral TB funding, and funding for the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization — GAVI. He was among signers to a 2013 letter to then Office of Management and Budget Director urging increased funding for international reproductive health and family planning services, and calls himself a steadfast opponent of the Global Gag Rule which blocks funding to organizations providing abortion services and counseling. He spoke against the Republican-backed Zika funding bill calling it “a tepid response to an alarming public health crisis,” and as ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee drew attention to the impact of budget cuts on National Institutes of Health research and on responses to Ebola.

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