Chimps Endure Congressional Monkey Business

A picture taken on April 26, 2005 shows three female chimpanzees nodding-off as they sit on rocks in a family group, with the sun on their backs in their open air enclosure at the Taronga Zoo in Sydney.
National Journal
Elahe Izad
Add to Briefcase
Elahe Izad
Oct. 29, 2013, 3:45 p.m.

If Con­gress doesn’t act soon, hu­mans won’t be the only prim­ates frus­trated with the polit­ic­al pro­cess — chim­pan­zees will take a hit, too.

Spe­cific­ally, re­search chimps owned by the Na­tion­al In­sti­tutes of Health. The fed­er­al gov­ern­ment has de­cided it won’t use the an­im­als for re­search any­more and has plans to re­tire most of them. The prob­lem? NIH is pre­ven­ted by a 2000 law from spend­ing more than $30 mil­lion over time on the care of our fuzzy re­l­at­ives liv­ing in re­serve sanc­tu­ar­ies. The agency ex­pects to hit that lim­it by mid-Novem­ber.

It’s a chimp cliff, if you will.

“If we do not get the ne­ces­sary changes to the law it will be very grim in­deed,” says Kathy Hud­son, NIH deputy dir­ect­or of sci­ence, out­reach, and policy. “We cer­tainly don’t want to be in a po­s­i­tion where we’re in vi­ol­a­tion of the law, but we also don’t want to be in po­s­i­tion where these an­im­als are not fed and cared for.”

NIH owns and helps pay for the care of 670 chim­pan­zees, as of Oc­to­ber 2012. The agency had an­ti­cip­ated send­ing about 60 to the Chimp Haven sanc­tu­ary (which is sort of like Flor­ida for chimps). More than 100 are already in the re­serve, each cost­ing about $43 a day to care for. The fed­er­al gov­ern­ment provides 75 per­cent of the money re­quired to take care of the chimps, while Chimp Haven pays the re­main­ing 25 per­cent.

A bill be­fore the Sen­ate Health, Edu­ca­tion, Labor, and Pen­sions Com­mit­tee on Wed­nes­day would give Health and Hu­man Ser­vices Sec­ret­ary Kath­leen Se­beli­us great­er flex­ib­il­ity in how to spend money NIH already has for the re­tired chimps in the re­serves. It’s sponsored by Com­mit­tee Chair­man Tom Har­kin, D-Iowa, and rank­ing mem­ber Lamar Al­ex­an­der, R-Tenn.

And if it doesn’t pass? The cur­rent law leaves few op­tions. NIH can’t send the chimps in sanc­tu­ar­ies back to re­search labs, where they are more ex­pens­ive to care for but where the agency is al­lowed to spend money on them. Eu­thanas­ia is pro­hib­ited un­less it’s in the “best in­terest” of the an­im­al.

Chimp ad­voc­ates don’t think it will ever come to that. Mar­cia Kramer, dir­ect­or of le­gis­lat­ive pro­grams for the Na­tion­al Anti-Vi­vi­sec­tion So­ci­ety, says private donors and vo­lun­teers will likely step up in the short term to help care for the an­im­als if money runs out. “It’s mor­ally un­ac­cept­able to the people in­volved that they would just be eu­th­an­ized,” Kramer says.

Giv­en its bi­par­tis­an sup­port, time is the bill’s biggest en­emy. It could pass the Sen­ate un­der un­an­im­ous con­sent. “This is the time when we really, really, really need Con­gress to work to­geth­er, and it’s an is­sue where there are no op­pon­ents, so this should be really easy,” Hud­son said.

If re­cent his­tory is any in­dic­a­tion, even the easy stuff is hard to get through a jammed con­gres­sion­al cal­en­dar. And as for wheth­er chimps are already fed up with Con­gress, none could be reached for com­ment.

COR­REC­TION: A pre­vi­ous ver­sion of this story gave an in­cor­rect af­fil­i­ation for Mar­cia Kramer. She is dir­ect­or of le­gis­lat­ive pro­grams for the Na­tion­al Anti-Vi­vi­sec­tion So­ci­ety.

What We're Following See More »
Is McMullin Building the GOP in Exile?
31 minutes ago

Evan McMullin, the independent conservative candidate who may win his home state of Utah, is quietly planning to turn his candidacy into a broader movement for principled conservatism. He tells BuzzFeed he's "skeptical" that the Republican party can reform itself "within a generation" and that the party's internal "disease" can't be cured via "the existing infrastructure.” The ex-CIA employee and Capitol Hill staffer says, “I have seen and worked with a lot of very courageous people in my time [but] I have seen a remarkable display of cowardice over the last couple of months in our leaders.” McMullin's team has assembled organizations in the 11 states where he's on the ballot, and adviser Rick Wilson says "there’s actually a very vibrant market for our message in the urban northeast and in parts of the south."

Clinton Up 9 in USA Today Poll; Up 3 According to Fox
41 minutes ago

A new USA Today/Suffolk University poll finds Clinton leads Trump by 9 points nationwide, 47% to 38%. A Fox News national poll has Clinton up just three points, 44% to 41% over Trump.

Too Many Potential Enrollees Paying Obamacare Penalties Instead
1 hours ago

One of the main reasons for the recent Obamacare premium hikes is that many potential enrollees have simply decided to pay the tax penalty for remaining uninsured, rather than pay for insurance. More than 8 million people paid the penalty in 2014, and preliminary numbers for 2015 suggest that the number approaches 6 million. "For the young and healthy who are badly needed to make the exchanges work, it is sometimes cheaper to pay the Internal Revenue Service than an insurance company charging large premiums, with huge deductibles."

Cruz: Eight Justices Could Be an Ongoing Situation
2 hours ago

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) said that "there was “precedent” for a Supreme Court with fewer than nine justices—appearing to suggest that the blockade on nominee Merrick Garland could last past the election." Speaking to reporters in Colorado, Cruz said: "I would note, just recently, that Justice Breyer observed that the vacancy is not impacting the ability of the court to do its job. That’s a debate that we are going to have.”

Chaffetz Also Caves, Says He’ll Vote Trump
5 hours ago

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.