The U.S. Senate approved an extension of the country’s primary autism legislation late Monday night after a group of Republicans agreed to lift a hold on the bill.
The reauthorization of the Combating Autism Act now heads to President Barack Obama’s desk.
White House officials say the president plans to sign the measure, which calls for $231 million for each of the next three years to fund everything from autism research to prevalence tracking, training, education, early identification and intervention programs.
Despite broad bipartisan support for the autism bill, a group of Republican senators had placed a hold on it, arguing that Congress should not be directly setting the priorities of research dollars in favor of one condition over another.
After days of uncertainty, the bill’s sponsor Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., struck a deal with the opposing Republicans late Monday night at what one Senate aide described as “quite literally the last minute.”
Under the deal, Menendez agreed to request a report from the Government Accountability Office assessing the use of federal autism dollars. In exchange, Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., allowed the bill to move forward.
Shortly after, the Senate approved the measure on a voice vote — the last before senators left for a planned break until next week.
“This reauthorization had been blocked by a few Republicans for more than two weeks, causing families coping with autism in New Jersey and across our nation unnecessary anxiety over the fate of the research programs and support services they have come to rely upon,” Menendez said. “Last night’s actions will provide families the security in knowing these programs will continue for another three years.”
The vote could not have come too soon for advocates who favor the autism act’s extension. The current version of the Combating Autism Act is set to expire at the end of the September and without reauthorization, supporters said many programs funded under the bill would lapse.