Medical Research? Congress Cheers. Medical Care? Congress Brawls.

WASHINGTON — They cannot agree on subsidies for low-income people under the Affordable Care Act or even how to extend funding for the broadly popular Children’s Health Insurance Program — two issues requiring urgent attention as Congress returns to work.

But a more exotic corner of the medical world has drawn rapturous agreement among Republicans and Democrats: the development of new treatments and cures through taxpayer-funded biomedical research.

For the third straight year, lawmakers are planning to increase the budget of the National Institutes of Health by $2 billion. In the process, they have summarily rejected cuts proposed by President Trump.

The push for additional funding reflects a fascination among legislators with advances in fields like molecular biology, genetics and regenerative medicine, even as they wage bitter battles over just how large a role the government should play in financing health care and providing coverage.

At a recent hearing, Senators Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Tim Scott of South Carolina, both Republicans, and Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, a Democrat, pressed scientists to explain exactly how gene editing technology could lead to new treatments for sickle cell anemia, H.I.V., cystic fibrosis, Alzheimer’s and other diseases.

Ms. Hassan wanted to know the relative merits of different techniques for editing DNA and RNA — what she called “this incredible cutting-edge technology.”

 Why is medical research so much less contentious than fundamental issues like health insurance coverage?

Anthony J. Mazzaschi, a lobbyist at the national organization representing schools of public health, said that “the charisma of the cure, the hope and promise of curing disease, seems to excite members of Congress,” including some in their 70s and 80s who are “facing the prospect of disease and disability head-on.”

And that prospect is bipartisan. “Disease doesn’t impact just Republicans or Democrats,” said Representative Diana DeGette, Democrat of Colorado. “It impacts everybody.”

– New York Times

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