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Obama signs $6.3B Cures bill, praises bipartisan Congress

In putting his signature on the 21st Century Cures Act, President Barack Obama on Dec. 13 acknowledged getting the bill enacted was a rare occurrence lately in Washington, given it was one of the few times this year lawmakers came together on a bipartisan front to get a major piece of legislation across the finish line.

"It is wonderful to see how well Democrats and Republicans in the closing days of this Congress came together around a common cause," Obama said.

Vice President Joe Biden, who led the effort to include the White House's Cancer Moonshot initiative in the Cures bill, said he hoped the achievement "bodes well for what will come next year — that we're back working together."

"This is a consequential piece of legislation that was extremely important," said Biden, who lost his oldest son last year to cancer and for whom the Moonshot provision was renamed by the Senate as a token of honor.

Obama, who called the White House bill signing ceremony a "bittersweet day," acknowledged that his mother also died of cancer, noting she was two years younger when she succumbed to the disease than he is now.

The Cures bill, which is expected to be the last piece of legislation Obama signs this year — and potentially even for his presidency — commits $6.3 billion over the next decade to the U.S. biomedical enterprise.

Most of those funds, $4.8 billion, will go to three areas of research championed by Obama: the brain, precision medicine and cancer. The bill also calls for $1 billion to go toward addressing the opioids epidemic and other mental health issues.

The FDA also stands to gain $500 million in the package.

The funding, however, is not guaranteed, since the Cures legislation only authorizes the money. The House and Senate appropriations committees will later determine whether Congress will back the full amount.

But lawmakers did include some initial funding for Cures in a stopgap spending bill aimed at keeping the U.S. government running through April 28, 2017. That bill, which Obama signed late last week, is providing the National Institutes of Health $352 million to get started on Obama's brain, precision medicine and cancer initiatives, while allotting the FDA $20 million. It also put $500 million toward combating misuse and abuse of opioids.

"Over the last eight years, one of my highest priorities as president has been to unleash the full force of American innovation to some of the biggest challenges that we face," Obama said. "That meant restoring science to its rightful place. It meant funding the research and development that's always kept America on the cutting edge."

"We are bringing to reality the possibility of new breakthroughs to some of the greatest health challenges of our time," the president said.