NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The US Senate last night approved a massive budget bill that will slash proposed increases for the National Institutes of Health, leaving federal backing for medical research dropping year-over-year.
This is Congress’ second attempt to push through a budget for the Departments of Health, Education, and Labor, as well as a number of other agencies, which included a funding increase for the NIH in fiscal 2008 to $30 billion. In his budget request, President Bush asked for $28.7 billion for the upcoming year, an increase of $200 million over fiscal 2007.
Bush vetoed that bill in November, saying it was loaded with earmarks and, as it was $10 billion over his request, showed a lack of fiscal restraint on Congress’ behalf.
On Tuesday, the Senate sent the bill back to the US House of Representatives after removing a restriction that would preclude any of the over $500 billion in the bill from being spent on military ventures in Iraq. It is unclear if House Democrats would support the revised Iraq budget policy, but pressure may mount for Congress to pass budgets before the holiday break and the end of the year.
Due to party-line battles over budgeting, the Health, Labor and Education bill is among many appropriations bills that are well overdue, as the fiscal year began on Oct. 1. The NIH currently is funded through temporary backing, which keeps funding at last year’s levels.
This omnibus bill appropriates $29.2 billion for the NIH, including $300 million that is tagged for spending on the Global AIDS Fund.
Congressman David Obey (D – Wisc.), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said in a statement this week that Bush’s budget left “unacceptable holes” in funding needs, and said that the bill he sent to the Senate increased that request for NIH funding by $607 million. The White House’s budget would have resulted in cuts of 800 medical research grants at the NIH, according to Obey’s office.
“We’re blaming the president and all that supported him,” said John Retzlaff, who is legislative director for the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology.
Retzlaff told GenomeWeb Daily News on Tuesday that the cut in proposed spending amounted to Congress acquiescing to the White House.
“In the end we did not have the votes” to override Bush’s veto and maintain the increased NIH funding, added Retzlaff, who described the cuts from the earlier bill as “another significant setback… to all those who are advocating for the NIH.”
For its part, FASEB is looking ahead to lobby the next White House occupants, and posted questions for presidential candidates on the website YouTube in an effort to inject biomedical research funding as an issue in the 2008 campaign.