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WASHINGTON — A bipartisan bill to speed government drug approvals and bolster biomedical research cleared its last procedural hurdle in the Senate on Monday in an emotional moment for outgoing Vice President Joe Biden.
The overwhelming 85-13 vote put the measure on track for final legislative approval by the Senate as early as Tuesday. President Barack Obama has promised to sign the measure, one of the last for the president and the 114th Congress, whose leaders hope to adjourn by week's end after a two-year session that has seen them clash frequently with the president.
The bill envisions providing $6.3 billion over the next decade, including $1.8 billion for cancer research. Obama had placed Biden in charge of a "moonshot" to find ways to cure and treat the disease, which killed his son Beau, 46, last year.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., sought approval for renaming a portion of the bill after Beau Biden. The Senate agreed, and lawmakers of both parties applauded and lined up to share quiet words and pats on the shoulder with the vice president, who sat teary-eyed in the presiding officer's chair of the chamber where he served as senator for 36 years. A clerk handed Biden a tissue.
"He's known the cruel toll this disease can take. But he hasn't let it defeat him," McConnell said of Biden, citing his work leading the administration's anti-cancer efforts.
"I've got to get better, and I will. It takes time," Biden told reporters after the vote. He said McConnell's gesture "validates all the years" he spent in the Senate and "makes me realize all the support I've had since my Beau died."
The near 1,000-page package, which cleared the House overwhelmingly last Wednesday with backing from Obama, would also steer funds to battling drug abuse and overhaul federal mental health programs.
Biden raised eyebrows after the vote, coyly hinting that he wasn't done with politics after his term ends on Jan. 20. "I am going to run again in 2020 ... for president," he told a handful of reporters.
Asked if he was kidding about running, Biden paused and then said, "I'm not committing not to run. I'm not committing to anything. I learned a long time ago fate has a strange way of intervening."