Eye on Washington: Ordering analysis, not action, on stem cell research and genetically altered food

September 1, 2004

Labor Day weekend is, in ordinary times, the end of summer vacation for members of Congress. Tanned and well-rested, senators and members of the House are ready to get back to work, to tackle at least some of the domestic policy issues they have been unable to resolve until now.But this is no ordinary summer: Some members of Congress responded to the publication of the report of the 9/11 Commission by returning to work in August, and-even with time off for convention-going and politicking in an election year-a special session to deal with homeland security may even be in the cards.

Labor Day weekend is, in ordinary times, the end of summer vacation for members of Congress. Tanned and well-rested, senators and members of the House are ready to get back to work, to tackle at least some of the domestic policy issues they have been unable to resolve until now.But this is no ordinary summer: Some members of Congress responded to the publication of the report of the 9/11 Commission by returning to work in August, and-even with time off for convention-going and politicking in an election year-a special session to deal with homeland security may even be in the cards.

Health-care issues have surfaced in both presidential campaigns, but actual legislative initiatives in this area are unlikely until after the election. Other politically sensitive issues, such as the renewal of the ban on assault weapons that will expire this month (unless Congress takes action), languish in committee. A plea from the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) to prioritize and, if needed, subsidize pharmaceutical research on new antimicrobial drugs will have to wait for the new Congress to get a hearing. (The IDSA report, "Bad Bugs, No Drugs . . . A Public Health Crisis," is available on the Web at http://www.idsociety.org/.) Only the military appropriations bill has passed thus far; the other 12 major appropriations bills await action. Congress did manage to do a deal to buy out tobacco growers to the tune of $12 billion over 10 years, as quid pro quo for giving the FDA authority to regulate tobacco. But lawmakers have been unable to pass a budget resolution, agree on new rules to restrain spending, or pass even a short-term extension of last year's tax cuts.

When Congress is too deeply embroiled in politics to do much by legislating, taking the regulatory route or commissioning a study are ways around the impasse. Here's how to accomplish that: