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Congress Passes 2013 Budget with Small Uptick in NIH Funding, But Sequester Cut Remains

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The US Senate and House of Representatives over the last two days passed a budget plan to fund the government for the remainder of the fiscal year that includes a $71 million increase in funding for the National Institutes of Health.

The budget leaves in place the sequestration plan, however, which cuts around $1.5 billion from NIH funding.

By passing the continuing resolution for FY 2013, which ends Sept. 30, Congress managed to allay concerns that the federal government might shut down on March 27, when the CR resolution was set to expire.

This means that NIH and other agencies that fund biomedical research will now know what their budgets are for the remainder of the year. That should provide short-term stability at these agencies as Congress and the White House wrangle over ways to cut the federal deficit long-term and plan the FY 2014 budget.

The process for the 2014 budget is already underway, as broad, long-term budget plans have already been proposed by Republicans in the House and Democrats in the Senate, and hearings are already underway on the Hill over how much funding specific agencies are seeking.

Since the beginning of FY 2013, NIH has been funded under the CR at the same level as 2012, or around $30.7 billion. Though $71 million is being added to that total spending amount for the entire year, $1.5 billion will still be cut from NIH's total budget under sequestration.

Now that NIH has a budget to work with for the remainder of the year, it may be in a better position to take some marginal steps to mitigate the impact the sequestration has on its funding priorities.

As GenomeWeb Daily News reported last week, this CR also will provide an increase of $221 million to the National Science Foundation's budget, which would enable NSF to make around 550 more grants, supporting as many as 7,000 more scientists, teachers, students and others, according to the bill summary.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology would see an increase of $43 million over the last budget.

Although these increases may be used to slightly offset the effects of the sequester cuts, keeping funding at NIH and other agencies at the 2012 level effectively results in a cut of an estimated 2.8 percent. That is the projected rate of the Biomedical Research and Development Price Index, or biomedical inflation, in FY 2013, according to analysis from NIH.

According the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, the failure to keep pace with biomedical inflation in recent years has caused deep cuts at NIH that are not reflected by the annual appropriations.

When the FY 2012 NIH budget is adjusted for inflation, according to FASEB, the agency has $4 billion less to spend than it did in FY 2003. That leads to fewer grants and lower success rates, which have fallen by 15 percentage points since 1999, FASEB said.

The 2013 funding resolution passed in both houses of Congress with bipartisan support, on votes of 73 to 26 in the Senate and 318 to 109 in the House.