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Senate Subcommittee Approves NIH Budget Matching Obama's Proposal

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – A key US Senate subcommittee yesterday approved a spending bill for fiscal 2013 that would provide $30.7 billion to the National Institutes of Health, a marginal increase of around $100 million compared with the funding for the current fiscal year.

The funding bill that the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education and Related Agencies Appropriations subcommittee passed includes roughly the same amount of funding that President Barack Obama asked for from Congress in his FY 2013 budget request in February.

The funding bill will now go to a markup by the full Appropriations Committee on Thursday.

The White House said in its budget plan that it maintained roughly the same amount of funding for NIH in spite of "very tight discretionary caps" on spending that are already in place due to an earlier, short-term deficit cutting agreement in Congress.

According to the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology and United for Medical Research, medical research advocacy groups, the $30.7 billion for 2013 does not keep pace with biomedical inflation, which FASEB expects to be around 3.5 percent in 2013. In a statement yesterday, UMR added "Accounting for inflation, this proposed funding level actually represents a cut to this crucial agency, an unfortunate continuance of a decade-long trend," UMR said in a statement yesterday.

Because of the expected increase in biomedical inflation, FASEB has advised that NIH should receive at least $32 billion next year.

"Research and development are critical to creating new businesses and new jobs, and medical research is our best weapon against the looming explosion in health care costs related to cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and other major health threats," UMR added yesterday. "Our nation simply cannot afford to trivialize research efforts when it comes to innovation, particularly when we know that, going forward, the possibility exists of staggering budget cuts through sequestration,".

The sequestration plan that UMR wants to avoid is scheduled to kick in at the beginning of 2013, and would require a cut of 7.8 percent to all discretionary federal funding.

This budget-slashing plan, the Budget Control Act, was triggered automatically when the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction — also known as the "super committee" — failed to reach a long-term agreement to lower US budget deficits.

As NIH Director Francis Collins explained to the Senate subcommittee in March, such a cut at NIH would lop about $2.4 billion of off the agency's budget and would mean it would fund 2,300 fewer grants next year.

The sequestration cuts would affect medical science funding beyond NIH, and would hit the budgets of the National Science Foundation, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, the Food and Drug Administration. Taken together, these cuts would slash funding for medical research agencies by $3.6 billion in 2013, according to a recent report from the advocacy group Research! America.

In an effort to discover how the Department of Health and Human Services would enact the sequestration cuts, if the BCA is enacted next year, and to make the case for sparing research spending, Rep. Ed Markey (D – Mass) wrote a letter to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius last week urging her to disclose how the cuts would be applied and the impact they would have.

"These deep reductions could stop vital, life-saving research in its tracks. New drugs and therapies could go undiscovered. High-paying, quality jobs at universities and labs nationwide could be lost," Markey stated.

The funding bill will now go to a markup by the full Appropriations Committee on Thursday.