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White House to Weigh Bill Boosting NIH Funding

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The US Senate has passed an appropriations bill that, if signed by the President, would raise the 2008 budget for the National Institutes of Health to $30 billion from the $28.7 billion the White House requested for NIH in its budget proposal earlier in the year.
 
The Department of Labor, Heath and Human Services bill left the Senate over a month late, as fiscal 2008 began on Oct. 1, and bounced between the two legislative branches in the last week after it was bundled up with two other spending bills, one for Veterans affairs and one for a water resources act.
 
After President George W. Bush vetoed the bundled bill last week, the Senate agreed to break the bills back down and send them back to the White House as separate bills.
 
Mid-last week, the White House said if the combined bill arrived on the President’s desk then he would veto it, saying it “includes an irresponsible and excessive level of spending.”
 
Whether he will veto this newly unbundled bill is not known, but the administration’s comments to date have not been flattering, saying the bill is loaded with over 2,200 earmarks and that it proposes spending as much as $3.2 billion on programs that the President had slashed out of his budget because they are “duplicative, narrowly focused, or are not producing results.”
 
The increase in NIH spending would come after three years of flattening budgets that, when tallied against consumer and biomedical inflation indexes, amounted to minor decreases in funding. According to the National Science Foundation’s projections a year ago, the budget for the National Human Genome Research Institute, for example, actually was slated to drop by 1.5 percent after accounting for biomedical inflation, although the budget proposed by the White House was an increase.
 
In reaction to the president’s budget request, John Retzlaff, legislative director for the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, said in February that the hope was that the bill would get an overhaul on Capitol Hill.
 
Retzlaff told GenomeWeb Daily News at that time that FASEB would do everything it could to see to it that the funding was increased, and on Friday he said his group’s efforts to mobilize the scientific community was a success.
 
“We had thousands of scientists, from all over the country, contacting their legislators and letting them know medical research is a national priority,” Retzlaff said in a statement, adding his opinion that Bush should “sign the bill into law without delay.”

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