In an emotional bill signing ceremony — likely the last one of this presidency — Obama signed the 21st Century Cures Act in a White House auditorium. The signing brought full circle Obama’s State of the Union challenge to Congress to “surprise the cynics” by tackling some of the biggest health priorities facing the country.
“We are bringing to reality the possibility of new breakthroughs to some of the biggest health challenges of our time,” Obama said.
“We’re tackling cancer, brain disease, substance abuse disorders and more, and none of this would have been possible without bipartisan cooperation from both houses of Congress,” he said, thanking a delegation from Capitol Hill. The bill passed the House of Representatives 392 to 26 and the Senate 94 to 5.
The bill was a personal project for Biden. The section of the bill allocating $1.8 billion in cancer research funding was named for his son, Beau, whose death from brain cancer in 2015 inspired what the White House called its “Cancer Moonshot.”
“This bill will literally save lives,” said a somber Biden. “Just its mere signing, Mr. President, as you know better than I, gives millions of Americans hope.”
In addition to the added funding, Biden said that the bill would “fundamentally change the culture of our fight against cancer” by adding a sense of urgency to the effort.
The bill also authorized seven years of funding for other health-related initiatives: $1.5 billion for a brain research initiative, $1.4 billion for precision medicine, and $1 billion for substance abuse treatment targeting heroin and opioid addiction.
Obama was introduced by David Grubb, a former West Virginia state senator who told first met the president in Charleston last year, telling him the story of his daughter Jessie’s battle with heroin addiction. She was in recovery then, and Grubb was optimistic.
But Jessie died this March after being given painkillers following a surgery.
“When I first met them in Charleston, their story was unfortunately more common than we would have liked,” Obama said. “I think it reflects the power of this issue and how deeply it affects every family in America.”
“This is an epidemic that can touch anybody — blue collar, white collar, college students, retirees, kids, moms, dads,” Obama said.