NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – The US Senate subcommittee that funds the National Institutes of Health yesterday agreed to provide NIH with a budget of $30.46 billion for the coming fiscal year, an increase of $605.7 million over the fiscal year 2014 budget of $29.9 billion.
Although the increase is modest, the budget bump of roughly 2 percent — authorized by the US Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies (Labor-HHS) — comes at a time when any increase at all is a rarity.
Congress is currently operating under tight spending caps, and the total Labor-HHS budget of $156.8 billion is exactly the same as last year. That means that any increase it affords for NIH must be offset by cuts to other agencies, which is always a difficult proposition for the appropriations subcommittees.
This is notable because, at a recent Appropriations Committee hearing, key senators from both parties said they wanted to see NIH funding increased, even though they are working under tight fiscal constraints that were implemented as part of last year's budget deal that postponed the sequestration cuts.
The office of Senator Tom Harkin (D – Iowa), who chairs the subcommittee, noted that the $605.7 million increase, when combined with the $1 billion increase the agency received this year, is expected to fully replace the funding NIH lost due to sequester cuts in fiscal year 2013.
The budget increase also includes $100 million to fuel the second year of the Brain Research through Innovative Neurotechnologies Initiative, a new program that received $40 million this fiscal year.
"Despite the difficult funding environment, we are pleased to see recognition of the critical role NIH plays as an economic engine and a driver of advances that improve patients' lives," the biomedical science advocacy group United for Medical Research said in a statement yesterday.
UMR pointed out that NIH has lost over 20 percent of its purchasing power in recent years due to flat budgets and inflation, but called the proposed increase "an important step in the right direction."
Research! America's Chief Operating Officer Mike Coburn in a statement yesterday agreed that the increase is a positive movement, but said "a more robust investment is critical to maintaining our pre-eminence in science and saving lives."
Coburn said the US cannot "sustain our nation's engine of discovery with dollops of fuel," and he called for Congress to provide NIH with a budget of at least $32 billion for fiscal year 2015.