Fort Report: The Real Work of Washington

Mar 2, 2019
Fort Report

You may not see this on TV, but much of the work in Washington goes on outside the glare of media.  It’s in committees where the hard work of advocating for lower drug prices, safer foods, and helping the world’s most vulnerable is accomplished.  Here are two examples from this week.

The Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Dr. Scott Gottlieb, testified before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, and Food and Drug Administration.  The FDA oversees our food, our drugs, our medical devices, and more.  It regulates roughly 25 cents of every consumer dollar spent in the U.S.  Its work affects every person in this country, every day.  Our work on the Ag Appropriations Subcommittee not only covers expenditures supporting the professionals overseeing these products and services, but it ensures that limited federal resources are spent wisely.  

We have a faulty assumption in Washington: Good intentions plus more money equals great outcomes.  So, it’s important that the Commissioner tell us about the FDA’s outcomes: how he is stewarding spending increases; his plans for advancements in digital health technology; and the concrete ways he will address the grim epidemic of drug overdose, beyond broad plans, that takes over 70,000 American lives every year, including many of our young people.  Of particular interest is understanding how we continue to ensure the safety of our foods, when 90 percent of our seafood, over half our fresh fruit, and over a third of our fresh vegetables are imported. 

Americans are rightly concerned about drug prices.  So, it’s important to learn what the FDA is doing to accelerate generic approvals, minimize the perverse effects of circumventing drug and device patents, and encourage the safe manufacture of generic drugs.  Of special note, the Commissioner discussed how bringing generic drugs to market faster can lower overall drug prices. Here is our full exchange

In another exchange, the Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Mark Green, came before the House Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations.  I raised issues related to Northern Iraq, Haiti, reforestation, and conservation.  Frankly, the name USAID does not capture the fullness of its mission.  Ultimately, it should be about protecting human dignity, attacking the root structural causes of poverty, and attempting to create an imaginative 21st century architecture for diplomatic relations rooted in authentic service to America’s humanitarian impulse, international stability, and our own national security. 

Ultimately, that meaning is found in the philosophical proposition of human dignity.  The desire to enhance that proposition is at the heart of our foreign policy work. 

Here is my full discussion with Administrator Green, particularly on the humanitarian crisis faced by Christians, Yazidis, and other religious minorities in Northern Iraq. 

When I first came to Congress, an older member warned about the “tyranny of the urgent.”  In other words, the hour-by-hour DC and media fire alarms should not distract from the essential work of reflection and governance.