The One Time Congress Let the Public Comment on an Upcoming Bill image

Pacific Standard, August 14, 2017
Francie Diep, quoting Rachel E. Sachs (Academic Fellow Alumna)


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[...] Congress doesn't typically ask for public comments on the bills it's considering. But, in January of 2015, the House Energy and Commerce Committee did just that, for a first draft of the 21st Century Cures Act. In a month, the committee received nearly 1,000 pages' worth of comments. And those comments seem to have made their mark, according to a new study: Lawmakers changed several portions of the act that garnered the most feedback.

"In most cases, the law was changed in a way that tracked the comments," says Rachel Sachs, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis who worked on the study, reading comments and sorting them by hand. This pattern is all the more remarkable because there's always plenty of lobbying—from pharmaceutical and health-insurance companies, for example—that goes on behind the scenes when representatives are writing a bill. Yet most of the changes to the 21st Century Cures Act were correlated with its public comments, suggesting backstage lobbying didn't have too much of an effect beyond what was publicly visible.

What did the comments help accomplish? Eleven of the sections in the first draft of the act drew as many or more critical comments as they did supportive ones, Sachs and her colleagues found. Six of those sections later disappeared from the legislation. The first draft also didn't offer any additional funding for the National Institutes of Health. Groups such as the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society wrote in, asking for money for the NIH. The second draft offered $10 billion over five years to the NIH. (The final act authorized $4.8 billion.) [...]

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biotechnology fda health law policy pharmaceuticals rachel sachs regulation