Biden Asks for a Moonshot, Republicans Have the Rocketship

Joe Biden was right.

Those are words that you won’t see often on this site so let them soak in for a moment. In late October, Joe Biden announced that he was not going to enter the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. Rather than fight for the presidency, he said he was going to fight against cancer, a disease that had just robbed him of more time with his son, Beau.

“I believe we need a moon shot in this country to cure cancer. It’s personal, but I know we can do this,” Biden said in his announcement. “The president and I have already been working hard on increasing funding for research and development because there are so many breakthroughs just on the horizon in science and medicine, and things are just about to happen, and we can make them real, with an absolute national commitment to end cancer as we know it today.”

Biden isn’t alone in his push. In October, Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee asked a crucial question, “Why aren’t we talking about – instead of cutting benefits for sick people – why don’t we say, let’s cure the four big cost-driving diseases: diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer’s? If you do that, you don’t just change the economy, you transform the lives of millions of hurting Americans.”

These types of statements are big, aspirational, and hard to believe. But those are strengths, not weaknesses. They harken back to September 12, 196, when President Kennedy stood up and declared that we would go to the moon by the end of the decade.

“We should choose to go to the moon,” Kennedy told the crowd. “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.

But if I were to say, my fellow citizens, that we shall send to the moon, 240,000 miles away from the control station in Houston, a giant rocket more than 300 feet tall, the length of this football field, made of new metal alloys, some of which have not yet been invented, capable of standing heat and stresses several times more than have ever been experienced, fitted together with a precision better than the finest watch, carrying all the equipment needed for propulsion, guidance, control, communications, food and survival, on an untried mission, to an unknown celestial body, and then return it safely to earth, re-entering the atmosphere at speeds of over 25,000 miles per hour, causing heat about half that of the temperature of the sun–almost as hot as it is here today–and do all this, and do it right, and do it first before this decade is out–then we must be bold.”

When Kennedy spoke those words, going to the moon wasn’t just hard, it was impossible. At this moment, curing cancer isn’t just hard, it can’t be done. Things will have to be invented that currently don’t exist and haven’t even been thought up yet. Such is the power of America’s collective brains if they are applied to a challenge.

Fortunately, while Joe Biden and Mike Huckabee are out there cheering for the next moon shot, some in Congress are already working to develop the space ship in the form of a bill called the “21st Century Cures Act.” The bipartisan legislation, which we first wrote about in July, approaches the problem from a number of perspectives: It breaks down the bureaucracy that delays the time it takes for new drugs to get to market, it modernizes the clinical trial process, it expands patient-generated medical registries to make it easier to find trials, and it invests heavily in medical research, providing an additional $9.3 billion in mandatory funding to the National Institutes of Health over the next five years. As Rep. Fred Upton and Rep. Diana DeGette write for the Huffington Post:

The talk of a “moon shot” is the exact mindset that we need — and America can and should lead the way. And the good news is, we’re already half way there.

Since 2013, we have been working together as a Republican from Michigan and a Democrat from Colorado, united in the belief that the country needs and is ready for a renewed effort to support biomedical research and harness innovation to turn discoveries in a lab into the treatments and cures that change patients’ lives. We are passionate about finding faster cures and better treatments for diseases that touch every family in America, including the Vice President’s and our own.

Our efforts culminated in legislation that would safely speed the discovery, development and delivery of new drugs and devices: H.R. 6, the 21st Century Cures Act, which overwhelmingly passed the House 344 to 77 six months ago.

Passage has proved a little trickier in the Senate. Rather than take the sweeping approach favored by the House, the Senate Health Committee is instead working on separate, narrower bills to “get [their] sea legs” in the bigger push to accelerate the development and approval of new medical cures.

Regardless of the metaphor – by space or by sea – the key is knowing where we want to go. Because when America sets its collective sights on a goal, there’s nothing it can’t do.