Earlier this week, I did something that I never thought I would do: Ask Sen. Jim Risch for more than $2 billion to fund two federal programs – without choking on my words.
Normally, that would be a tough sell because Risch is one of the leading deficit hawks on Capitol Hill. I was halfway expecting him to lecture me about bulging deficits and how run-away government spending is driving this nation to the brink of disaster.
That was not the case. I was in the nation’s capital as a guest of the American Diabetes Association’s lobbying day on Capitol Hill and I soon found out that he’s a member of the Senate Diabetes Caucus – which is a home run in my view. The senator was engaging, friendly and supportive of the cause.
He listened to the complications I have experienced from the disease, including an amputated toe, blindness and loss of my career, heart bypass surgery and – most recently – kidney disease. Risch has heard those kinds of stories and worse; at least I’m alive to talk about my problems. It is projected that by 2050, one in three people living in the United States will have diabetes. He is well aware of the threat diabetes poses to the nation’s overall health and is equally aware of what Congress can do to prevent this train wreck.
“The National Institute of Health does amazing things,” Risch said at one point. He’s on board with the NIH’s goal of finding a cure for diabetes, and $2 billion is a small price tag for that effort. He also is receptive to the proposals for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ($137 million) and the National Diabetes Prevention Program ($20 million). The millions spent on those worthwhile programs will save billions of dollars in the long run.
Risch clearly gets it on this issue. As one who has struggled with diabetes for the last 14 years, I am thankful that he’s in the U.S. Senate and appreciate there is such a thing as a Senate Diabetes Caucus. That sends a nice signal to the 25 million people in the United States who have this awful disease and the nearly 80 million who have pre-diabetes.
But he isn’t the only friend on Capitol Hill, or even in the Idaho delegation. Senator Mike Crapo also is a member of the diabetes caucus. I didn’t meet with him, but I was greeted by a legislative assistant, Kellie McConnell, who knew the issues and facts before I could present them. For instance, she’s aware that funding for a Special Diabetes Program will run out on Sept. 30 unless Congress takes action.
Her knowledge about the issues tells me that diabetes is high on Crapo’s priority list.
On the House side, Congressmen Mike Simpson and Raul Labrador are not part of the Congressional Diabetes Caucus, but they are well aware of the issues.
“Like you, diabetes issues are personal to Congressman Simpson, as he has experienced it with a close family member,” said Nathan Greene, a legislative assistant with the office. “It is an issue that he continues to look to engage in whenever possible.”
Labrador has spoken with me several times about diabetes, and how the numbers are of epidemic proportions among Hispanics. His legislative assistant, Bekah DeMordant, was taken aback by the thought of one in three people having diabetes by 2050. I won’t be part of that world, but she most likely will unless a cure is found.
Ultimately, we cannot count on Congress to wave a magic wand and make this problem go away. The best way to keep type 2 diabetes from spreading like wildfire is for people to take responsibility for their personal choices and their children’s.
But as I learned from my one-day lobbying experience, Congress can support the dynamic research efforts that will lead to a cure and promote prevention. From my standpoint, it’s good to know that Washington is aware and listening.