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Economic Recovery Act Now Holds $10B for NIH

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) — The economic stimulus bill being debated in the US Senate this week now includes $10 billion in new funding for the National Institutes of Health, after an amendment added to the bill last night was being confirmed through a voice vote.

As GenomeWeb Daily News reported yesterday, Senators Arlen Specter (R – Pa.) and Richard Durbin (D – Ill.) proposed adding $6.5 billion in total NIH funding on top of the $3.5 billion sought in the House of Representatives' version of the bill.

Although Specter also withdrew the amendment last night soon after it was introduced, the same funding was resubmitted by Tom Harkin (D – Ia.) with a change that did not affect the NIH funding request.

The Specter-Durbin amendment asked for the additional $6.5 billion for the NIH to be offset by an equivalent cut in funding for the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund, which Harkin's did not include.

That fund includes $79 billion for state and local governments for education and other services that may be short due to the ongoing economic recession. Otherwise, the two amendments were the same.

In order to untangle what he termed a "procedural snarl," Specter asked to withdraw his amendment and pledged to support Harkin's

In a statement on the Senate floor, Specter said the total $10 billion allocation would "correct" what he described as a decline of NIH funding of a total of $5.2 billion over the past seven years, after the budgets are adjusted to account for inflation.

The debate over the now $900 billion recovery bill in Congress is expected to be heated, with much focus on how to justify the stimulus value of the money, or the 'bang for the buck', as is a catch-phrase in the Senate this week.

"The statistics show there would be good-paying jobs created by this $10 billion," Specter said.

"According to NIH Acting Director Raynard Kington, the $10 billion would result in the creation of some 70,000 jobs over the next two years. These funds could go out in a range of six to nine months, and certainly in less than a year, so it has the impact of being very promptly disseminated," Specter continued.

NIH has said that with a $1 billion increase in funding for research, it could support between 2,500 and 2,700 in grants, which it calculates as translating into around 15,000 jobs. NIH compiled that data using studies by the RAND Corporation and the Department of Commerce, according to the NIH Record.

Specter also cited the "high costs associated with diseases" that the US spends annually, such as $448.5 billion associated with cardiovascular disease and $219 billion associated with cancer, that would amount to longer term value for the bill.

In introducing his amendment, Harkin spoke about how biomedical research also employs the research community.

"[E]very time a researcher gets a grant, it supports an average of seven jobs," he said, adding that now one out of six to one out of ten peer-reviewed grants are funded. He also pointed out that the average age of investigators upon receiving their first NIH grant is now at 42.

"When we doubled the funding for NIH, a lot of young researchers started there, and they are there now, but we are losing a whole other generation of these young researchers," Harkin said. "If this whole bill is emergency spending, why, I ask, should the funding for NIH not be the same?"

Debate on the bill is expected to continue through the week, and no definite date has been set for a full senate vote on the bill.

Jennifer Zeitzer, who is legislative director for the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, said today in an e-mail to GenomeWeb Daily News that it will be "hard to hold on to that additional money for NIH" in the final bill, because she expects that the debate in the Senate and in the conference between both houses will continue to focus on spending amounts, and how targeted the spending is.

Kei Koizumi, a budget analyst for the American Association for the Advancement of Science, agreed with Zeitzer that the full $10 billion in NIH funding may not make it through in the bill that will eventually go to the Oval Office.

"I'd say it's unlikely, but splitting the difference between the House's $3.5 billion and the Senate's $10 billion is a possibility," he told GWDN in an e-mail. "The higher the NIH number is, the less likely it is that NIH will be able to spend it quickly, of course, which complicates the chances of the full NIH appropriation making it into the final stimulus."

Koizumi conducted a review of the constantly-changing bill and found a total of $13.2 billion in federal R&D funding in the House bill and $11.9 in the Senate version.

Both houses would provide similar funds for basic research and development ($9.5 billion in the House, $9.7 billion in the Senate), but the House bill includes $3.7 billion for spending on R&D facilities and for large research equipment, while the Senate would provide $2.2 billion for those programs.

The House bill marks $3 billion and the Senate bill $1.4 billion for the National Science Foundation. Around $2 billion of the House draft would go to fund research grants distributed through NSF's peer-review process.

The House version includes $430 million for the Department of Health and Human Services' Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority for biodefense countermeasures. Meanwhile, the Department of Entergy would receive $800 million specifically for biomass research as part of a renewable energy effort totaling $2 billion; the Senate version includes $2.6 billion but does not stipulate how it should be allocated.

The House also has asked for $520 million for the National Institute of Standards and Technology, for which the Senate bill requests $595 million.

The Senate bill would give $100 million for the Department of Agriculture's Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service while the House bill did not allocate any funds for that program.