A good start
In a rare nonpartisan act in the public interest, the Senate last week unanimously passed a bill that will end public funding of the two major parties' political conventions.
Under the Gabriella Miller Kids First Research Act, the $126 million in public funds is supposed to be redirected to the National Institutes of Health specifically to fund pediatric cancer research. The bill was named for Gabriella Miller, 10, of Virginia, who died in October due to a brain tumor after publicly appealing for more funds for pediatric medical research.
The money that had gone to the conventions comes from the $3 income tax check-off for presidential campaign funding.
Federal funds accounted for about 23 percent of convention funding in 2012, with the rest coming from sponsors. Although it's reasonable to argue that the public shouldn't fund the parties' conventions, the downside of the decision is that the parties will be even more indebted to well-heeled narrow interests that make up the difference.
And, while the bill calls for directing the funds to pediatric cancer research, it does not specifically appropriate the money.
That, in turn, raises the question of NIH funding. Congress restored some science funding that had been slashed through earlier "sequestration," but the bulk of it went to physical science research through NASA, the National Science Foundation and other agencies. Biological and medical research through the NIH received more modest increases of about 3.5 percent.
Congress should follow through on appropriating the pediatric cancer funds and more fully fund the NIH to help find treatments and cures for diseases and to maintain the nation's standing as the world's pre-eminent research hub.