Senate Joins House to Free the Chimps (Updated)

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Posted November 15, 2013 at 11:09am

Updated: 1:15 p.m. | The Senate and House managed to come together this week to free some chimps from government captivity.

Involved are about 300 chimpanzees at labs involved in National Institutes of Health research projects. As part of their retirement, the primates will be relocated to a sanctuary.

While the idea was quite popular, there was a complication. A provision of a public health law caused the problem preventing NIH from spending on the chimp sanctuaries, as CQ Roll Call’s Kerry Young previously explained. The continuing resolution that funded reopening the government didn’t contain a special provision to tweak the law about the chimpanzees, meaning the animals were essentially stuck in limbo in the labs.

The Senate Appropriations Committee had drafted language that would have provided a permanent fix for the chimp problem. The language that has now passed the House and Senate provides more of a short-term solution.

The NIH chimps won’t have to wait for a more substantial Labor-HHS spending bill come January, when the current stopgap law expires. House lawmakers inserted the short-term fix for the issue with the chimpanzees into an unrelated bill that would expand research and other activities related to premature births.

“This bill will help the scientists and researchers working on saving infant lives and preventing births from happening too early. It is an important step to helping reduce the rate of premature births in Tennessee, which is over 12 percent,” Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander said in a statement announcing passage of the measure. “We have made great progress since we first put the spotlight on premature birth, but it remains the leading killer of newborns and a major cause of lasting disabilities.”

Alexander, the top Republican on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, authored the premature birth provisions with Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo.

The Senate moved to clear the amended bill Thursday evening after many senators had departed for the weekend, as is customary of noncontroversial legislation. The package now heads to President Barack Obama’s desk.