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White House Budget Proposes Small Increase at NIH

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The 2015 federal budget proposal that the Obama Administration released today seeks a marginal increase in funding for the National Institutes of Health — an increase of nearly one percent — to $30.36 billion from $30.15 billion in FY 2014, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services.

That small proposed bump in funding may disappoint groups who advocate for biomedical science and basic funding, as well as US universities that have grown more vocal over the past year in reaction to continued federal spending cuts and the sequestration.

One of those groups, United for Medical Research, said the budget "falls short of reversing the damage done by a decade of flat funding [to NIH] and recent cuts from sequestration."

"NIH has seen a more than 20 percent decline in its purchasing power and can only fund one in every seven research grants it receives. As such, the US is slipping in its position as the global leader in the life sciences," UMR said.

As GenomeWeb Daily News reported yesterday, for example, the Federation of American Societies of Experimental Biology urged the White House to ask Congress to approve $32 billion for NIH next year, a sum FASEB said would merely restore some of the funds lost to last year's sequester.

While the President's budget may serve as a guide for Congress, it doesn't dictate the final numbers that will come out of the body. In any given year legislators can raise or lower any particular department's appropriation, so long as they agree on it.

There are some unique factors this year regarding the budget scenario that make it unlikely that NIH would receive much of a funding boost anyway. It is a mid-term election year, which recently means a budget is unlikely to come out of Congress, as lawmakers are wary of casting votes on big spending bills in the months before they are on the ballot.

There also are spending caps in place that were set in December under an agreement between negotiators from the House of Representatives and the US Senate, a process that enabled the 2014 budget to pass but fixed hard spending caps on the government as a whole. Those caps mean that any one agency might not see much of an increase, because that money would have to be sliced out of another agency's budget.

But the White House's budget does lay out the priority areas for spending within departments and agencies. The White House's budget proposal roughly spreads the NIH increase across most of the institutes and centers, although it provides a boost of $52 million to the Office of the Director, $25 million for the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, and $23 million for the National Institute of Mental Health.

The National Human Genome Research Institute would receive a $1 million increase to $498 million, while the National Cancer Institute would receive $8 million more this year, or $4.93 billion in total.