116th Congress: House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee gets new leader, four new Democrats, one new Republican

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The 116th Congress began on January 3rd, 2019, bringing new members to House and Senate committees addressing global health policies and funding. Science Speaks introduces you to those new members in this series.

With a Democratic majority, the 116th Congress sees new leadership  of the House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee, as well as five new subcommittee members — four Democrats, and one Republican. From a former deputy secretary for a state health department to a billionaire tech entrepreneur with a charitable family foundation, they bring diverse experiences to the subcommittee that oversees the Department of Health and Human Services, the National Institutes of Health, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — with legislative authority over health care, biomedical research and development, and food, drug, and device safety.

Rep. Anna G. Eshoo (D-CA) – Elected to the House in 1992, Rep. Eshoo took her seat on the subcommittee in 1995 and notes in her announcement of her appointment as subcommittee chair, that she has served on the Health Subcommittee for 14 of her 24 years on the committee. She has said she sees the subcommittee leadership post as an opportunity to “help lead the effort in the House to strengthen the Affordable Care Act, reduce the price of prescription drugs, and continue to make critically important investments in the National Institutes of Health.”

Over her time on the subcommittee, she has demonstrated investment in global infectious disease responses and health security. Since taking the subcommittee leadership post, she joined Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) in calling  for a briefing from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on the current Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In 2006 she worked with Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI), to author bipartisan legislation to establish the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority that is dedicated to building medical countermeasures to outbreaks of pandemic potential. She co-sponsored the PAHPA reauthorization that passed the House Wednesday.

Now leading the subcommittee charged overseeing the pharmaceutical industry, the volume of campaign contributions she has received from the pharmaceutical industry, as well as a tepid approach to drug pricing reform led her to be targeted by the political action committee Patients For Affordable Drugs Action.

Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE), Rep. Rochester joined the 115th Congress when she came to the House in 2017. A former deputy secretary for the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services, Rep. Rochester notes in her announcement of her subcommittee assignment that she is the only former statewide health official serving on the committee. One of more than 100 members of Congress who said they turned down or donated their paychecks, Rep. Rochester reported that she donated $8,000 to the First State Community Action Agency, the Food Bank of Delaware, Catholic Charities and the Coast Guard Mission Fund. Strongly endorsed by the Human Rights Campaign, she has called continuing needs to ensure LGBTQ rights and equity “a fight I will not run away from.” 

Rep. Nanette Diaz Barragán (D-CA) – Rep.Barragán joined the 115th Congress in 2017 and is a founding member of the United for Climate and Environmental Justice Task Force in Congress, seeking to address the impacts of climate change and environmental degradation on communities of color, and served as chair of the environmental task forces for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and the Congressional Progressive Caucus. This month she was part of a congressional delegation to the border investigating a migrant child’s death in the custody of U.S. agents on Christmas Eve.

Rep. Robin Kelly (D-IL) – Since her election to to the House in 2012, she has “distinguished herself as a creative voice on health care and gun issues,” the Chicago Sun-Times said in its endorsement of her recent re-election. She serves as the Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus Health Braintrust, and Co-Chairs the Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls. Married to a physician and a former member of the Illinois House of Representatives, she has been strongly endorsed by Planned Parenthood.

Rep. Ann McLane Kuster (D-NH) – First elected to the House in 2012, Rep. Kuster describes herself as a longtime community activist and adoption attorney. She counts affordable health care among her priorities With her mother, former state legislator Susan McLane, she co-authored The Last Dance: Facing Alzheimers with Love and Laughter. In 2016, in a House speech, she described being sexually assaulted as a college student, and then several years later as a legislative aide. She has described a brother’s struggle with opioid use disorder, and is founder and co-chair of the bipartisan Congressional Heroin and Opioids Task Force.

Rep. Greg Gianforte (R- MT) – Rep. Gianforte won his seat in Congress in a May special election, the day after tackling and punching a reporter  who had asked him a question about health care policy. After pleading guilty to a misdemeanor charge of assault, Rep. Gianforte was sentenced to a 180-day deferred jail sentence, 40 hours of community service, 20 hours of anger management and a $300 fine. A billionaire tech entrepreneur, whose support for teaching creationism in public schools and opposition to LGBTQ equity measures have been among his most widely known stances, Gianforte, with his wife, launched the Gianforte Family Foundation in 2004. Among the foundation’s beneficiaries is the Glendive Dinosaur & Fossil Museum, which includes among its missions to challenge ”the assumptions and consequences […] of the humanistic concept of evolution.” The Gianforte Foundation also reportedly supplies 60 percent of funding for the Montana Family Foundation, which has counted among its priorities “to protect and promote families” through legislation restricting abortion access, banning same-sex marriage, allowing businesses to  discriminate against LGBTQ individuals and the “Montana Locker Room Privacy Act.”

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