NIH Advocacy in Need of Critical Care
late than never. Congress, unable to
reach agreement on the FY’11 budget that began October 1, finally completed
legislation that funds programs for the remaining 6 months of the fiscal
year. NIH will receive $30.7 billion, a
1% reduction from its FY’10 spending level.
We won’t torment you by rehashing how that happened or why because you
are probably tired of hearing about it.
And in any event, you can expect more of the same as Congress reconvenes
early May to hash out a FY’12 budget and deal with raising the federal debt
limit ceiling. How these two issues are
addressed and ultimately resolved has profound funding implications for the
is a measure of how significantly the expectations of the biomedical research
community have been reset that a 1% cut from the previous year’s budget is
viewed by some with relief that NIH was not cut more.
for better or worse, the FY 2012 budget season has begun. Almost certainly, any agreement, whenever we
ultimately arrive at one, will entail additional cuts to domestic discretionary
programs. The Republican-led House has
passed its FY 2012 budget resolution that calls for significant cuts to
discretionary spending, tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, and changes to
Medicare and Medicaid. The Democrat controlled Senate will almost certainly
resist this plan, but will have to agree on many spending cuts. So you can expect more of the same debate and
rhetoric emanating from Washington in the weeks and months ahead.
compound an already difficult FY 2012 funding situation, the above scenario is
also influenced by Congressional debate over raising the federal debt level
ceiling, which currently stands at $14.3 trillion. To lift the debt ceiling
sometime this summer, Republicans and some Democrats will use additional cuts
in spending as a bargaining chip to increase the debt ceiling limit. Polls show that the public is against raising
the debt ceiling limit so many in Congress will vote against raising the limit
at least once before they vote for it to avoid the country going into default.
of this means that NIH will be cut. But
in this economic and political environment, it becomes difficult to imagine any
scenario where the funding situation for NIH moves modestly forward from its
current FY’11 level. As the recently
completed fiscal year spending bill revealed, NIH may “succeed” only relative
to other programs.
and other domestic discretionary spending programs total about $450 billion of
federal spending, about one-eighth of total spending. Interest payments alone totaled $197 billion
in FY 2010. Interest debt payments in
2021 are estimated to total over $790 billion.
So unless this country gets it deficit and federal debt under control,
the U.S. will pay more money to foreign governments than it pays collectively
for biomedical research, repairing bridges, improving food safety, etc. Here is another way to view it: NIH currently supports approximately 50,000
research grants across the country, at an average of about $400,000 per
grant. If the U.S. did not need to make
those interest payments in 2010, those interest payments could instead have
funded about 490,000 grants; and in 2021 NIH would be able to fund 1,980,000
is not just Republicans but Democrats too who have embraced austerity and
deficit reduction measures. The Obama
Administration has called for increases in investments in science and
technology and yet NIH funding is going backwards. What are others saying about
NIH? Early this spring, the
Congressional Budget Office (CBO) issued a report, Reducing the Deficit:
Spending and Revenue Options. (http://www.cbo.gov/ftpdocs/120xx/doc12085/03-10-ReducingTheDeficit.pdf)
that outlines 100 options and policy implications lawmakers could consider as
they look to address deficits and debt.
The CBO report is only intended to provide options and makes no
recommendations. Yet it is instructive
to look at what options the CBO lists to “Reduce or Constrain Funding for the
National Institutes of Health (see page 121 of chapter three: Discretionary
CBO offers two options and you won’t like any of them. One is to restrict the rate of growth at the
NIH to 1% per year and option two is to cut funding for NIH to its FY 2003
level and only then allow it to grow with inflation. CBO notes that these options would force NIH
to focus on research that would provide the most significant benefits. CBO does acknowledge that cuts to the
extramural research programs would disrupt funding for programs already under
way and discourage innovation that would improve people’s health.
this means is that for the remainder of the year, it is more critical than ever
that ASPET members make the case to Congress that investing in the NIH should
be a national priority. If you think
that your Representative or Senator is especially difficult, that is even more
reason to speak to them and their staff on what NIH does and what it means to
your community and the nation. A collective effort by all in the biomedical
research community can make a difference in preventing cuts, and possibly
seeing the NIH budget move forward. We
can’t predict what will happen or where help may come from. In 1995, NIH faced cuts and prolonged freezes
in its budget. Yet, it was Republican
leadership that ultimately increased the NIH budget and was the catalyst behind
the doubling effort that ended in 2003. If
you would like more information on how to meet with your Congressional
delegation, how to prepare for a meeting, and the many advocacy resources
available to scientists, contact me at email@example.com.