Posts Tagged ‘House of Representatives’

Legislation is pending in both chambers of Congress to provide great apes — the bill specifically identifies chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas and orangutans, as well as gibbons, which are technically a lesser ape — with protection against invasive biomedical research and to ban federal funding for such research inside and outside the United States. Congress should pass the Great Ape Protection Act summarily.

GAPA — H.R. 1326 in the House and S.3694 in the Senate — finds that apes are “highly intelligent and social animals and research laboratory environments involving invasive research cannot meet their complex social and psychological needs.” For legislative purposes, the regulation is classified as part of interstate commerce because most great ape research is performed by pharmaceutical companies in the development of new drugs.

Perhaps most inspiring is GAPA’s conclusion that there is a moral responsibility (whose, the bill does not specify) to provide quality care for apes used for research. Many such apes were infected with HIV or hepatitis C in the course of being studied. According to the Jane Goodall Institute, there are 1,000 chimpanzees, about 500 of which are government-owned, used for research in the U.S., costing taxpayers $20 to $25 million per year to house.

Furthermore, the JGI argues that ape-based research is a poor methodology in addition to being unethical. Although humans share 98 percent of their DNA with chimpanzees, that small discrepancy can lead to major variations in those diseases in humans. The JGI instead recommends DNA analysis, computer modeling and in vitro testing alternatives.

Many other countries have passed similar legislation in recent years, including the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Australia, Sweden, Japan, Austria and Belgium. Spain even granted legal rights to great apes in 2008.

Nevertheless, there has been some opposition to this research ban. GAPA would “halt ongoing biomedical research into such diseases as hepatitis C for which no other animal model exists,” a coalition of associations wrote in a letter to Congress. The ban would also hurt efforts on research that can help apes, they argued, including research into the Ebola virus and cardiovascular developments to benefit apes in captivity. Signatories included the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science, the American Psychological Association, the American Society of Human Genetics and the National Primate Research Centers.

GAPA has received little Republican support in the House. Of the bill’s current co-sponsors, 132 are Democrats (two, Bordallo of Guam and Pierluisi of Puerto Rico, are non-voting members) and 14 are Republicans.

In the Senate, the three co-sponsors are Democrat Maria Cantwell of Washington, Republican Susan Collins of Maine and independent Bernard Sanders of Vermont. The bill was introduced just one month ago in the senate and will likely draw more co-sponsors with time.

Hopefully the recent introduction of the Senate bill will help move along the House bill, which has been languishing in the House Committee on Energy and Commerce since its introduction in March 2009. The current congress is dangerously close to concluding, and with matters as pressing as health care, the economy, education reform and two ongoing overseas conflicts taking up so much of the legislators’ attention, a bill like the Great Ape Protection Act could easily decay in committee until the next congress, when it would have to be reintroduced (again, actually, as the bill was first introduced in 2008).

It certainly can help with the budget. Retiring the 500 federally owned chimpanzees would ultimately save about $170 million, the Humane Society of the United States calculated. It’s a drop in the bucket, but because it saves money while ending unethical research methods, the Great Ape Protection Act is a win-win.


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Practically no one is expecting Democrats to keep the House after this fall’s election. The senate is up for debate; most reports right now indicate Republicans will take back several seats, cutting down the Dems’ majority. The New York Times just ran an editorial bemoaning the lack of enthusiasm on the left, while the right has managed to tap into a powerfully active base.

So why is Reid Wilson of the Hotline arguing the Dems will keep the House? Really, it’s a long con; Wilson doesn’t lose much from writing this now because the election is still far off, speculation is running wild and in a week no one will remember he ever predicted this. If Wilson is wrong, which he almost certainly is, this article gets lost to time, irrelevant. However, on the incredibly off-chance he is correct, and some catastrophe stops the Republicans dead in their tracks, Wilson can point to this piece and say, “Told you so.”

What reasons does Wilson provide?

  • Most Democratic candidates have more cash, and the DCCC has twice as much as the NRCC.
  • Money = advertising and turnout operations, which bring more people to the polls
  • Money also = opposition research. “Democrats have engaged in what they characterize as an unprecedented research campaign, digging up dirt on GOP candidates in hopes of driving their negative numbers through the roof.
  • Republican voters are enthusiastic but polling can be misleading about the percentage who will actually get out and vote. Wilson cites the special election in the Pennsylvania 12th earlier this year.

Blah blah blah blah. Each point contains a speckle of truth, but Wilson is blowing everything out of proportion. Some counterpoints:

  • More cash: Money isn’t everything these days. So much information is disseminated via internet and TV, official campaign spending is really only a fraction of the media blitz preceding an election. This is especially true on the right, where media outlets like Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and BigGovernment.com provide practically free support to conservatives. And don’t forget the Tea Parties, although it is still very unclear how much influence they carry.
  • Better turnout: Turnout operations don’t really persuade people who weren’t going to vote anyway. This is even more overestimated because the turnout operations are funded by the official campaign dollars, which as was just stated are only a part of the spending going on.
  • Opposition research: It’s possible to take out one or two of the newly minted Republican candidates around the country this way, but tarnishing the GOP itself is increasingly difficult. Besides, many of these populist Republican candidates are like Teflon to dirt: Nikki Hailey’s (literally) unbelievable infidelities; Rand Paul’s wacky college kidnapping tale; Sharron Angle’s veiled threats of violence against Democrats, which seems to have only increased her support.
  • Polling: The Pennsylvania 12th is hardly a microcosm of America’s voting habits. Consider that the special election took place during the Specter-Sestak primary, drawing more Democrats to the polls than may normally have voted.

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In May the Supreme Court decided to close its doors, literally; the front doors, up a massive marble staircase, were the iconic image of the high court, were shuttered in May and visitors directed instead to a small side entrance. Some justices dissented; in a statement (PDF), Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg acknowledged the possible security threats, but noted “potential security threats will exist regardless of which entrance we use. And, in making this decision, it is important not to undervalue the symbolic and historic importance of allowing visitors to enter the Court after walking up Gilbert’s famed front steps.”

Now The Washington Post is reporting on a House resolution calling on the grand entrance to be reopened. The resolution “is probably doomed, and won’t do much anyway,” but “could be the beginning of a new conversation.” Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-California) is seeking to reopen the doors; her resolution has more than 30 co-sponsors so far.

Although this bill, according to the Congressional Research Service, is without precedent, it seems unlikely Congress could force the court to reopen its front doors. Congress may not be able to order the doors open, but a line in the bill hints at a possible way to put the squeeze on the justices: “Congress provided the appropriation to build the current Supreme Court building and continues to provide appropriations for the Court, ensuring that justice is available to all.”

On the one hand, it is perfectly plausible for security threats against the court to cause concern. However, security is, of course, taken extremely seriously at any entrance; barring visitors from entering through the grand staircase and front doors denies the majestic entrance’s awe-inspiring promise of justice throughout the land. The tradeoff seems like a no-brainer to me.

Bonus: Resolutions often carry little legal weight and are surprisingly commonplace, more likely to be recognitions of people, organizations or holidays. House resolutions from the current Congress include:

  • H.R. 6: “Recognizing the significant contribution coaches make in the life of children who participate in organized sports and supporting the goals and ideals of National Coaches Appreciation Week”
  • H.R. 99: “Recognizing Edgar Allan Poe for his literary contributions to American history on the 200th anniversary of his birth”
  • H.R. 521: “Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives with respect to the importance of having a census that is complete and accurate”
  • H.R. 1001: “Congratulating North Central College on winning the 2009 NCAA Division III men’s cross country championship”
  • H.R. 1244: “Recognizing the National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition for its now five-year effort to promote cyber security curriculum in institutions of higher learning”
  • H.R. 1603: “Expressing support for designation of September 2010 as National Craniofacial Acceptance Month”

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