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White House Proposes $1.2B Cut to NIH Budget in 2017

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – Only weeks after proposing a budget that would cut $5.8 billion from the 2018 budget of the National Institutes of Health, the White House on Friday proposed cutting nearly $1.2 billion from the NIH budget this year as part of a broader plan to reduce government spending during the remainder of fiscal 2017.

President Donald Trump called for a 20 percent reduction in NIH spending in fiscal 2018 in his "America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again" report.

According to the White House's latest plan obtained by GenomeWeb from the White House Office of Management and Budget, the NIH's budget for this fiscal year would be trimmed to $30.44 billion from its current $31.67 billion by eliminating about $50 million in spending on new Institutional Development Award (IDeA) grants and reducing research grants by $1.18 billion. Fiscal 2017 ends in October.

Other agencies that would see cuts in 2017 under the new proposal are the US Food and Drug Administration, which would have about $40 million taken out of its budget through staffing and non-pay administrative reductions; and the National Science Foundation, which would lose $350 million of its $6.9 billion budget through a reduction in the number of research grants it awards during the remainder of the year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would also see a $314 million budget reduction through cuts to various programs, including ones related to HIV research and public health threat preparedness.

Whether these proposed reductions will be enacted is unclear, particularly in light of the negative reaction to Trump's 2018 budget blueprint from Republicans and Democrats alike.

In a note to investors, Cowen analyst Doug Schenkel said that he doesn't expect there to be any cuts at all to the NIH's budget during the entirety of the Trump administration.

"At worst, we believe NIH [funding] will remain flat in a continuing resolution if there is a government spending standoff," he wrote. "Although NIH funding hasn't kept up with inflation, the only time there were cuts to the agency in the past decade was when Congress' hand was forced by sequestration."

Further, he noted, such deep cuts to the NIH would require a 60-vote filibuster-proof majority, which would be a rather tall order given the current makeup of the Senate today. "There are currently 52 Republican Senators and we strongly believe that there are not eight Senate Democrats who would endorse this level of cuts to NIH (nor would many GOP Senators)," Schenkel added.

He believes the NIH's funding will remain flat at $32 billion for the rest of fiscal 2017, and thinks there is potential for a $1 billion increase to the agency’s budget in 2018. "Our estimated $1 billion increase for NIH in FY18 is based on a combination of historical precedent, the fact that both parties had negotiated a $2 billion increase for FY17 that never came to fruition, and that the [21st Century Cures Act] included 'suggested' year-over-year increases of $1 billion for FY18 through FY20," Schenkel wrote.

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