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Deficit Hawk Or Dove? Enzi’s Autism Stance

Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., has been among the more outspoken members of Congress calling for major reductions in federal spending to reduce the budget deficit.

But on Wednesday, at a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee meeting,  he was part of a unanimous vote for nearly $700 million in funding for autism research and treatment. In fact, he is one of three lawmakers who introduced the bill that will reauthorize a 2006 autism law that expires Sept 30. The others are Sens. Scott Brown,  R-Mass., and Dick Durbin, D-Ill.

Enzi spokesman Joe Brenckle explains the senator’s position this way:

It is important to understand the legislation cosponsored by Senator Enzi does not represent new spending.  Instead it reauthorizes an existing program at the prior year’s funding level.  This bill is still subject to the annual appropriations process, but Senator Enzi believes that worthy, non-duplicative federal programs will continue to be authorized.

The original law called for $1 billion to expand federal research as well as increase services, diagnosis and treatment and enhance awareness efforts. The money increased autism research spending by almost 50 percent.  The reauthorization bill will continue the funding for an additional three years. The House has yet to move a re-authorization bill.

Autism Speaks lobbyist Stuart Spielman said he’s confident the bill will pass, though the group is cognizant of pressures caused by the deficit. “We are not blind to the general fiscal environment … but this is a continuation of a successful progam,” he said.

Updated at 11:59 a.m. on Sept. 7.