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Despite Deficit, Enzi Supports Federal Spending On Autism

Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY) has been among the more outspoken members of Congress calling for major reductions in federal spending to reduce the budget deficit.

But today, at a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee meeting, he is expected to vote for nearly $700 million in funding for autism research and treatment. In fact, he is one of three co-sponsors of the bill that will reauthorize a 2006 autism law that expires at the end of the month. The others are Sens. Scott Brown (R-MA) and Dick Durbin (D-IL).

Enzi spokesman Joe Brenckle explains the senator's position this way:

It is important to understand the legislation cosponsored by Senator Enzi does not represent new spending. Instead it reauthorizes an existing program at the prior year's funding level. This bill is still subject to the annual appropriations process, but Senator Enzi believes that worthy, non-duplicative federal programs will continue to be authorized.

The original law, which Enzi co-sponsored, called for $1 billion to expand federal research as well as increase services, diagnosis and treatment and enhance awareness efforts. The money increased autism research spending by almost 50 percent. The reauthorization bill will continue the funding for an additional three years.

Stuart Spielman, a lobbyist for Autism Speaks, said he's confident the bill will pass, though the group is aware of pressures caused by the deficit. "We are not blind to the general fiscal environment ... but this is a continuation of a successful progam," he said.

Update 2 p.m.: The committee passed the bill with no discussion. It now moves to full Senate. The House has yet to move on a reauthorization bill.

Copyright 2011 Kaiser Health News. To see more, visit http://www.kaiserhealthnews.org/.

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