Inside (the Beltway) Scoop

By | June 16, 2016

Senate Committee Recommends $2 Billion Increase for Biomedical Research; House to Consider NIH Budget Later This Month

 For months, Roy Blunt (R-MO), the chairman of the Senate Labor, Health and Human Services (LHHS) Appropriations Subcommittee said that he did not want the $2 billion increase for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in 2016 to be a “one-hit wonder.” Last week, Chairman Blunt moved closer to getting his wish when the Senate Appropriations Committee approved a fiscal year (FY) 2017 LHHS bill (S 3040) by a vote of 29–1. The spending measure provides an additional $2 billion for biomedical research, raising the NIH budget to $34.1 billion (a 6.2 percent increase).

“Last year when we increased NIH by $2 billion, the first significant increase in this bill in over a decade, I made clear that sustained funding was as important as the increased investment. A pattern begins in the second year, and we have seized the opportunity this year to begin a pattern of increases for the NIH,” Blunt stated in remarks prior to the committee vote.

According to a summary of the bill, “every NIH Institute and Center receives increased funding to support investments that advance science and speed the development of new therapies, diagnostics and preventive measures, improving the health of all Americans.”

Within the $2 billion increase, the measure specified support for several NIH initiatives:

  • Precision Medicine – $100 million increase
  • Alzheimer’s Disease – $400 million increase
  • Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative – $100 million increase
  • Combating Antimicrobial Resistance – $50 million increase
  • Institutional Development Award Program – an increase of $12.5 million

LHHS Subcommittee ranking member Patty Murray (D-WA), Appropriations Committee ranking member Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), and Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), and James Lankford (R-OK) all mentioned the increased funding for NIH as a highlight of the bill. They also noted that the subcommittee produced a bipartisan LHHS appropriations bill for the first time in seven years (the previous bills were opposed by Democrats for a variety of reasons, including cuts to agencies other than NIH).

The LHHS bill does not include any controversial “policy riders” that could result in a veto threat from the White House. It is not clear when the Senate leadership will bring it to the full Senate for a final vote.

In addition to increasing funding for NIH, the Senate also attempted to circumvent the budget caps that Congress agreed to last fall. During debate on the National Defense Authorization Act (S 2934), Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain offered an amendment to raise the existing defense cap by $18 billion to support additional Pentagon spending.

Democrats, led by Senators Jack Reed (RI) and Mikulski, insisted that any effort to raise the defense budget be accompanied by an equal increase for non-defense programs and offered a related amendment to provide $18 billion in new money to pay for research on the Zika virus, expand treatment services for opioid addiction, and fund other domestic priorities. Both amendments failed to receive the 60 votes that would have been required for passage, leaving the existing budget limits in place for 2017.

On the other side of the Capitol, House LHHS Subcommittee Chairman Tom Cole (R-OK) said on June 9 that the House Appropriations Committee will likely vote on the NIH funding bill the week of June 20. Chairman Cole also indicated “he expects the House and Senate will eventually get on the same page for issues like by how much to increase funding for the National Institutes of Health and to fight opioid abuse, although their initial bills will look different.” Similar to Chairman Blunt, Cole has expressed interest in increasing funding for NIH in a “regular, manageable, and predictable way so that the scientific community knows they will continue.”