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Defense bill passes House

CAPITOL HILL – One of the most consequential bills on the House of Representatives calendar each year, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), got a thorough hearing over three days last week before ultimately passing 344- 81 on Friday.

“This bill is the vehicle by which we usually, for 55 years at least, fulfill our responsibilities under the Constitution that I mentioned, to provide for the common defense. I believe that’s the first job of the federal government,” said Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas-13), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. “It is fundamentally wrong to send men and women out on dangerous missions without providing them the best equipment, in the best shape, with the best training that our country can possibly provide.”

The NDAA for fiscal year (FY) 2018 authorizes $696 billion in defense spending, $28.5 billion more than the amount requested by President Donald Trump. Among the added expenditures are $7.9 billion in aviation readiness funds and $5.9 billion for the U.S. naval presence, as well as $2.5 billion for missile defense efforts. The bill increases funding for cyber operations by $1.7 billion and for U.S. Cyber Command by 16 percent.

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Democrats hold rallies as GOP health care bill crashes and burns on the Hill

CAPITOL HILL – Healthcare is the hot topic of the moment in the U.S. Senate, and last Wednesday, Democrats brought out their heavy hitters to rally opposition to the Republican plan. Several prominent senators made appearances at a rally in front of the Senate chambers held June 21, attended by several left-wing groups, including Ultraviolet and Progressive Maryland, the day before Republican leaders in the chamber unveiled their proposal to replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA), called the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA). Although details of the bill were not known at the time, senators said the House version offered a good idea of what it would contain – and they did not like it.

“President (Donald) Trump may have actually said it best. He said that Trumpcare is ‘mean,’” said Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wa.). “President Trump may not know much about healthcare – he sort of admitted it – and he’s certainly not the person I’d go to for policy on women’s care, but let me tell you, President Trump is our country’s top expert on mean.”

The bill text, released the next day, includes and even strengthens many portions of the House bill. It cuts Medicaid beginning in 2021 and lowers taxes for corporations and higher-earning individuals. It retains the House repeal of an ACA provision that keeps costs lower for seniors and allows them to be charged up to five times more than younger patients for insurance. Mental health coverage would no longer be required under Medicaid and states could apply for a waiver from essential health benefits, the minimum coverage standards under the ACA.

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Drinking diet soda no safer than regular soda during pregnancy

Tumbler of cola with iceConsuming diet soda during pregnancy can increase a child's risk of obesity, according to a study from the National Institutes of Health.

"Our findings suggest that artificially-sweetened beverages during pregnancy are not likely to be any better at reducing the risk for later childhood obesity than sugar-sweetened beverages," said Chilin Zhang, an epidemiologist at NIH's National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

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"...To Curry Favor.."

Maryland and D.C. file suit against Trump claiming emoluments clause violation

Brian FroshMd. Attorney General Brian Frosh. PHOTO BY NEAL EARLEY WASHINGTON D.C. – Attorneys general for Maryland and the District of Columbia announced Monday that they are suing President Donald J, Trump for violating one of the U.S. Constitutions antcorruption clauses.

At a press conference Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh and District of Columbia Attorney General Karl A. Racine filed a lawsuit against the president, citing his real estate properties – including the Trump International Hotel in Washington D.C. – and alleged business deals between foreign governments at the Trump Organization as evidence the president violated the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause.

The Emoluments Clause is a portion of the Constitution the states the president cannot receive a title of nobility from a foreign government or a salary other than the one Congress pays the president.

“I can tell as I look that as I look out the window and see the tower of the Trump International Hotel, we know exactly what’s going on every single day,” Racine said. “We know that foreign governments are spending money there in order to curry favor with the President of the United States.”

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Study shows binge drinking is up among Americans

Binge DrinkingBinge drinking rates have increased across the country, according to a new study from the National Institutes of Health.

"This important study reveals that a large number of people in the United States drink at very high levels and underscores the dangers associated with such ‘extreme' binge drinking," said George F. Koob, Ph.D., director of NIH's National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

"The motivation was to better understand just how much people in the U.S. actually drink," said Aaron White, Ph.D., a researcher at NIH who co-authored the study. "A percentage of that [drinking] population goes to great extremes at least once a year," he added.

Using previously compiled data, the study found that binge drinking increased overall since 2001.

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The eyes have it at NIH but eyes remain unseen so far

The National Institutes of Health have launched a competition to award a federal prize of $1 million for a bidder that can successfully replicate production of fully functioning eye tissue.

“What we really want from this competition is a better way to understand human retina disease and also learn about drugs that could potentially be worked for those diseases,” said Jessica Mazerik, who holds a doctorate of philosophy in cell biology and is the competition coordinator at NIH’s National Eye Institute (NEI).

Contestants are aiming to grow a fully functioning eye retina in a specimen dish. Researchers, biotechnology companies and pharmaceutical companies could then use the end product to research eye diseases and test potential treatments.

“We think we’re right on the cusp of being able to replicate the human light sensitivity of a human retina,” said Steve Becker, a colleague of Mazerik’s at NEI, who also has a doctorate of philosophy (PhD) in cell biology.

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NIH faces massive cuts under Trump budget

BETHESDA -- Under President Trump’s recent budget proposal, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is set to receive a major cut to its annual budget.

The proposal reduces the $31.7 billion NIH budget by approximately 18 percent. It also calls for the reorganization and streamlining of the various institutes to reduce overhead costs and the elimination of the Fogarty International Center.

“It’s definitely a distressing proposal, these are devastating cuts and a blow to the country," said Jamie Raskin (D), who represents Maryland's 8th Congressional District, which includes NIH as well as other federal research agencies including the Food and Drug Administration and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“Science is an overall social project, and when you knock out the basic pillars, it devastates the entire enterprise,” he added.

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Congress struggles to be more HONEST about transparency

CAPITOL HILL – Republicans in Congress are having a second go at a measure they say will increase transparency of federal environmental regulations.

On March 29, the House of Representatives voted 228-194 to pass the Honest and Open New EPA Science Treatment Act (HONEST Act), which prohibits the Environmental Protection Agency from proposing an action, including a new regulation, unless the scientific and technical information used to make that decision is “the best available science; specifically identified; and publicly available online in a manner that is sufficient for independent analysis and substantial reproduction of research results.”

Both Maryland Reps. Anthony Brown (D-4) and Steny Hoyer (D-5) voted against the measure.

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NIH studies alcoholism in young Native Americans

BETHESDA – A study funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has found effective ways to reduce alcohol use among American Indian and rural youth.

Researchers at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, studied high school students in northeastern Oklahoma and found that two previously designed intervention programs showed a decline in alcohol use.

“This important study underscores our commitment to finding evidence-based solutions for alcohol problems in American Indian and other underserved populations,” said Dr. George F. Koob, Director of NIH’s National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

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Van Hollen blasts Trump budget cuts

Chris Van HollenSen. Chris Van Hollen (D)    FILE PHOTO  

CAPITOL HILL – Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D) came out strongly against the budget proposal unveiled by President Donald Trump, which features harsh cuts to many federal agencies.

In a press conference on Thursday, Van Hollen said the budget blueprint Trump submitted that describes how his administration intends to allocate discretionary spending represents a “betrayal” of Trump’s campaign promises and everyday Americans.

“The Trump budget is great if you can get on a plane every weekend and fly to Mar-a-Lago. But it stinks for everybody else,” Van Hollen said, referring to the president’s Florida resort. “It is directly aimed at hurting working families, and it will hurt people’s opportunities to get ahead and make it in America.”

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