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US Senator Says NIH Unlikely to See More Cash in FY'08; Calls for Community to 'Raise Hell'

PHILADELPHIA (GenomeWeb News) — The stalemate between President Bush and Congress over this fiscal year’s federal budget all but kills the likelihood that the National Institutes of Health’s fiscal 2008 budget will be increased, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) told GenomeWeb Daily News sister publication BioRegion News this week.
 
As a result, he said he expects Bush to prevail over those in Congress who want to increase the NIH budget beyond the president’s proposed $28.9 billion for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1 -- 1.2 percent less than the agency saw in fiscal 2007.
 
“The scientific community ought to be raising hell about that,” Specter said. “They’re really sort of sitting back and not really digging in.”
 
In June, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved a $29.9-billion budget for the NIH as part of a spending bill for the departments of Education, Labor, and Health and Human Services. The committee’s approved represented $200 million more for the NIH than the House of Representatives appropriations committee had set aside earlier, and more than the House Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education settled on in June.
 
That work was likely for naught, Specter said in a brief interview this week. “The increase? It’s Confederate money because we’re not going to get the bill passed, ultimately,” Specter said.
 
Specter spoke with BioRegion News minutes after addressing attendees at the Biotech 2007 Conference held here, presented by the Delaware BioScience Association, Pennsylvania Bio, and BioNJ, the new name of the Biotechnology Council of New Jersey.
 
Bush’s fiscal 2008 proposal for NIH was $360 million less than the $29.2 billion Congress approved for the agency in fiscal 2007. This final amount included $99 million that the NIH shifted to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria. In FY 2008, NIH would shift an additional $300 million to the fund, which is around one-third of the Senate’s approved increase and 40 percent of the House’s.
 
Hoping to iron out their dispute and keep the federal government functioning through Nov. 16, Congress approved and Bush signed a set of “continuing” resolutions freezing spending at the 2006-07 level. No action is expected this week because the Senate has been in recess and won’t return to session until Oct. 15.
 
When it does, Specter said, it is likely to first approve an Education-Labor-HHS bill that Bush is all but certain to reject, then ultimately approve the President’s numbers — resulting in less spending on NIH.
 
“It’s going to be passed and vetoed, and not going to be enacted, and then we’re going to come back with a big cut, so I’m very unhappy about that,” he said.

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