John Baer: Calling Specter to help kids with cancer
NOW A LITTLE tale of parental pain, political prerogative and how the Daily News put them together to make a good thing happen.
NOW A LITTLE tale of parental pain, political prerogative and how the
put them together to make a good thing happen.
Amy Bucher, a 35-year old Chester County mom of two, sent an e-mail asking if I could figure out why U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., wasn't pushing the Conquer Childhood Cancer Act.
Her interest is more than academic.
Her 3-year old daughter, Arden, has an aggressive cancer, has had surgeries, stem-cell transplants and undergoes chemotherapy.
She's been in and out of Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and the Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington.
Bucher says she wrote Specter three times since November urging his backing of the bill, which increases funding for childhood-cancer research, and asking that he be a co-sponsor.
She says she never got a reply.
"He's our senator," she says, "He's supposed to represent our interests. I would hope that he would at least be clear as to where he stands."
She's especially confused since Specter is a long-time champion of medical research and a cancer survivor.
I'd add - ironically - that he just unveiled his new book, "Never Give In: Battling Cancer in the Senate."
Bucher says friends and relatives wrote Specter and got non-committal form letters back. She shows me examples of similar experiences from other Pa. parents of kids with cancer.
Strange, I think.
At issue is a bill introduced a year ago this week by Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I. Reed spokesman Chip Unruh says he's "very hopeful" that the bill can pass and that active support from senior senators such as Specter can be "very helpful."
There are 53 co-sponsors (60 senators can bring a bill to a final vote) and it passed the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions back in December 20-1.
Its support doesn't appear ideological or partisan.
Co-sponsors include Pa. Sen. Bob Casey and Majority Leader Harry Reid, liberal Democrats Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, and more than a dozen Republicans, including conservatives Sam Brownback of Kansas and Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
The bill provides $30 million a year over five years for pediatric cancer research and support for patients and parents.
This is peanuts to a government spending $6 billion a month for a misguided war in Iraq - now in its fifth year.
It's little in light of the government just spending $42 million to notify taxpayers by mail of its silly economic-stimulus package.
And it's confounding given the issue.
Cancer kills more kids than any other disease, and the cause of most childhood cancers is unknown.
Three-year old Arden, for example, has no family history of cancer. It came on her, says her mother, "out of the blue, literally overnight."
And Specter? I talked with him twice.
First time, he said his policy is not to co-sponsor bills that designate how medical-research funds are spent, preferring to let scientists at the National Institutes of Health make such decisions.
(Bucher tells me that after I contacted Specter's office she got a phone call from a Specter aide explaining this policy.)
But later, Specter calls me back.
"I'm gonna co-sponsor her bill," he said.
Says he looked over Bucher's letters and read about her daughter.
"It obviously means a lot to her to have me and other senators signed on and I'm gonna do it," he says, "and revisit the overall policy."
He says that since his cancer and his book he's had contact with many families battling the disease, "and I want to give her as much comfort as I can."
He stresses that the better way to increase childhood funding is to get more undesignated money to NIH, and notes that just last week he pushed an amendment for an additional $2.1 billion.
(The NIH budget for childhood cancer increased dramatically in the last 10 years. But the 2007 budget of $172.7 million is a drop-off of $6.9 million from 2006.)
But Specter says he's changing his mind because sometimes, on some issues, "people think we don't care."
That was probably true for people such as Amy Bucher and her husband Rick, their year-old son Grayson and their daughter Arden.
But I'm betting it's not so true anymore. *
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