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Analysis: Senate Agrees On FDA Bill, But Not On Student Loans

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David Hawkings, CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Members of the U.S. Senate have headed out of town for the Memorial Day holiday, but not before taking a few key votes. Senators passed a bill on the Food and Drug Administration, which will affect FDA employees in Silver Spring, Md. as well as health care more broadly. The bill would renew a program to charge fees to review medications, and is intended to reduce drug shortages, speed up review of certain drugs, intensify regulation of foreign drug manufacturing, and help deter drug counterfeiters. 

But Senators failed to pass legislation to keep low rates for some student loans. David Hawkings, editor-in-chief of the CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing, joins WAMU Morning Edition host Matt McCleskey to go over the last few days in the Senate.

How they reached such clear agreement on this FDA bill, which passed the Senate 96 to 1: "It is remarkable any time the Senate can vote 96-1 on anything," Hawkings says. "It is something on which the industry and consumer groups agree. Both sides, agreed on what needed to be done to keep the FDA's medical device and medicine approval process up to date with all the evolving technologies." 

On the bill's effects on drug shortages: "The bill addresses what all constituents of all members of Congress say is a huge problem, which is drug shortages," Hawkings says. "This bill would give the federal government some new power to essentially to go looking for new ways to supply drugs when there are shortages and require businesses to tell the government when they're running in short supply." 

Why the same agreement couldn't be reached on the student loan bill: "Unlike the FDA bill, which was going to be pretty difficult for either side to make a partisan election year issue, the notion of all student loan interest rates to double at the end of next month, which would cost some 6 million students some $6 billion in just one year, is something the public will understand and that the parties can get their base of support up for."

How the student loan interest rate issue is likely to be resolved: "At the moment, it is a total standoff, not on whether to do it -- both Democrats and Republicans want to do it -- but on how to pay for it," Hawkings says. "There's no deal yet, and it is something that is going to have the smell of last minute brinkmanship. It will probably be the last thing decided after the next month of legislation at the end of June."

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