Created by on 6/19/2012 12:00:00 AM

Scientists from across the country responded to an e-action alert issued by the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, sending more than 4,000 emails urging Senators to provide $32 billion for biomedical research just days before the Appropriations Committee approved the annual bill that funds the National Institutes of Health (NIH). On June 14th, NIH emerged as a priority as the Senate Appropriations Committee passed the FY 2013 Labor, Health and Human Services (LHHS) bill (S 3295) by a vote of 16-14. In a repeat of the vote during LHHS Subcommittee consideration of the bill, all Democrats supported the measure and all Republicans opposed it. NIH received $30.723 billion, an increase of $100 million above the FY 2012 enacted level. LHHS Subcommittee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) mentioned the NIH funding increase as one of the highlights in the bill during his brief opening statement. Subcommittee ranking member Richard Shelby (R-AL) used his remarks to explain that even though he voted against the bill, he supports several programs funded by the legislation, specifically mentioning NIH as the first item in a list of his top priorities. The new National Center for Advancing Translational Science was funded at $631,346,000 (a $54.89 million increase over 2012 funding) which includes $40 million for the Cures Acceleration Network (a $30 million increase over the current budget). An e-action alert issued by the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology generated more than four thousand emails to Senate offices prior to Appropriations Committee approval of the bill.
During the mark-up, the committee adopted a “manager’s package” that included amendments from Senators Jack Reed (D-RI), Patty Murray (D-WA), Shelby, John Hoeven (R-ND), Dan Coats (R-IN), and Ron Johnson (R-WI), as well as report language from several members of the Appropriations Committee. More than a dozen additional amendments were considered in addition to those in the “manager’s package.” Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS) offered an amendment to increase funding for NIH to $32 billion by imposing a 0.769 percent across-the-board cut to all other programs in the bill. Speaking in support of the amendment, Moran noted that a funding level of $32 billion for NIH would allow the medical research budget to keep pace with inflation. He also stated, “Medical research supported by NIH has changed the lives of millions of Americans and has the potential to impact millions more – offering them hope for the future. Now is not the time to waiver on America’s commitment to advancing disease cures and treatments. Without consistent, strong support of NIH, our nation is at risk of jeopardizing patient treatment advancements, losing our position as a global medical research leader, and squandering the opportunity to drive economic growth.” Senators Shelby and Hoeven co-sponsored the Moran amendment, with Hoeven stating that NIH funding should be a top priority in the federal budget. Although she did not support the Moran amendment, Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) expressed concern about the NIH funding level in a press release stating, “I am mindful that in this tight budget climate trade-offs must be made. However, these successful programs need more support, not less, for our country to remain competitive with innovation and research around the globe.” In explaining his opposition to the Moran amendment, Senator Harkin said that the $100 million increase for NIH was above President Obama’s request for the agency and that as an appropriator he (Harkin) did not feel that across-the-board cuts were a good way to make budget decisions. The Moran amendment failed by a vote of 12-18. All Democrats, and Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Coats voted against the Moran amendment.
A second NIH-related amendment was offered by Senator Landrieu who proposed to add an additional $50 million in funding for the Institutional Development Award (IDeA) program by shifting funds from within other parts of NIH. Senators Shelby, Hoeven, and full committee ranking member Thad Cochran (R-MS) were co-sponsors of the Landrieu amendment which passed by a vote of 18-12. All of the Republicans and Senators Landrieu, Ben Nelson (D-FL), Mark Pryor (D-AR), and Jon Tester (D-MT) voted for the IDeA amendment. Speaking against the amendment, Senator Harkin reviewed the history of the program and noted that NIH data indicate applicants from IDeA states on average have a higher success rate in terms of competing for grants. He also said that a larger discussion was needed to examine the future of the IDeA program, mentioning that NIH must be reauthorized because the agency’s current authority has expired. Harkin suggested he would like to have a hearing on IDeA and committed to looking at ways to expand the capacity of the program as part of a comprehensive NIH reauthorization.
A day after the LHHS bill was approved, the Appropriations Committee released report language summarizing various aspects of the legislation. The report praised the NIH Director for efforts to strengthen the biomedical research workforce and recommended that the agency continue awarding Career Development (“K”) Awards to train clinical researchers. NIH was also commended for adopting the IOM’s recommendations in the “Chimpanzees in Biomedical and Behavioral Research” report but was urged to put a priority on developing alternatives that could eliminate the need to use chimpanzees in research to test the efficacy of a prophylactic vaccine for hepatitis C. Also mentioned in the report were new provisions intended to prevent excessive spending on conferences by requiring quarterly reports on the costs and contracting procedures involved in any meeting that costs more than $20,000 and limiting the amount of federal funding that may be spent on any single international conference and the number of federal employees who may attend.