Meet the Dying Girl Who Told Congress to Stop the Bullshit

It took a remarkable young life to summon a few pages of can-do bipartisanship.

National Journal
Ron Fournier
April 3, 2014, 10:02 a.m.

Dy­ing of an in­op­er­able brain tu­mor, 10-year-old Gab­ri­ella Miller told Wash­ing­ton to shove it. “Stop talk­ing and start do­ing,” she said in a video while lob­by­ing Con­gress for pe­di­at­ric dis­ease re­search money. With a mis­chiev­ous smile and balled fists, Gab­ri­ella giggled: “Talk­ing’s bull­shit. We need ac­tions.”

Con­gress listened, but could it act in time to save her?

In a brief res­pite from Wash­ing­ton grid­lock, Pres­id­ent Obama today is sign­ing the Gab­ri­ella Miller Kids First Re­search Act, a $126 mil­lion in­crease in pe­di­at­ric med­ic­al re­search over the next dec­ade. The bill was shep­her­ded through Con­gress by House Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Eric Can­tor, a Re­pub­lic­an in­spired by Gab­ri­ella’s story when he saw one of her You­Tube pitches late last year.

It was em­braced in the Sen­ate by two Demo­crats, fel­low Vir­gini­ans Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, and sent to the White House for Pres­id­ent Obama’s sig­na­ture Thursday. Gab­ri­ella grew up in Lees­burg, Va. In the House, Rep. Gregg Harp­er, R-Miss., sponsored the bill in hon­or of his son, who has Fra­gile X syn­drome.

“Par­ents with kids with a dis­ease or dis­order don’t care wheth­er you’re a Re­pub­lic­an or Demo­crat,” Can­tor told me by tele­phone, “they just want their kids to get bet­ter.”

Gab­ri­ella’s law is more of an ab­er­ra­tion than a trend in Con­gress, a deeply un­pop­u­lar in­sti­tu­tion gripped by po­lar­iz­a­tion, fisc­al aus­ter­ity and in­ac­tion.  It took a re­mark­able young life to sum­mon a few pages of can-do bi­par­tis­an­ship.

“This is what we all should be about,” Can­tor said. “Both sides should be about bet­ter­ing the lives of kids.”

Can­tor’s Demo­crat­ic part­ner in the House was Rep. Peter Welch, a lib­er­al from Ver­mont. “We’re mak­ing an im­port­ant in­vest­ment in life-sav­ing re­search which we hope will lead to long over­due cures,” Welch said in a state­ment. “We’re also demon­strat­ing that bi­par­tis­an pro­gress is pos­sible even in this deeply di­vided Con­gress.”

The bill ter­min­ates fund­ing from the Pres­id­en­tial Elec­tion Cam­paign Fund for polit­ic­al party con­ven­tions, ac­cord­ing to Can­tor’s of­fice, and shifts the sav­ings to re­search in­to pe­di­at­ric dis­eases and dis­orders. The $12.6 mil­lion per year is a pit­tance com­pared to the sever­ity of the prob­lem and the size of the U.S. budget, which suffered cuts to me­di­al re­search un­der the GOP-Demo­crat­ic se­quest­ra­tion deal.

“I do stop and re­cog­nize that this is huge,” Gab­ri­ella’s moth­er, Ellyn Miller, told the Rich­mond Times-Dis­patch. “But we have so much work to do.”

Can­tor agrees, and is push­ing the GOP caucus to em­brace pe­di­at­ric re­search as a cause. It’s a con­ser­vat­ive prin­ciple to pri­or­it­ize fed­er­al spend­ing, he said, such as mak­ing sure pe­di­at­ric re­search doesn’t fall be­hind adult-dis­ease re­search. “There is a role for gov­ern­ment when it comes to med­ic­al re­search and cures,” said Can­tor, who has spear­headed two oth­er pe­di­at­ric health care bills signed by Obama.

Gab­ri­ella was only 9 when she was dia­gnosed in Novem­ber 2012 with a tu­mor the size of a wal­nut. In a sym­bol­ic ges­ture to sup­port her can­cer aware­ness cam­paign, Gab­ri­ella and her fam­ily smashed wal­nuts with fry­ing pans. They star­ted The Smash­ing Wal­nuts Found­a­tion, and Gab­ri­ella be­came a na­tion­al spokes­per­son for pe­di­at­ric health re­search ““ rais­ing money, writ­ing a book, and ap­pear­ing in un­for­get­table videos.

“I got can­cer so that not as many kids will be dy­ing next,” Gab­ri­ella says at the end of this Fox News pro­file. “If I lose my battle, then I want oth­er people to carry on for more. I’ll be with my friends and I’ll be in a good place and it won’t be all that bad.” Then she shrugged.

Gab­ri­ella died in Oc­to­ber.

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