Created by on 10/6/2011 12:00:00 AM

On September 21st, the full Senate Appropriations Committee approved its fiscal year (FY) 2012 Labor-HHS-Education (LHHS) spending bill (S 1599) by a vote of 16 to 14 (all Democrats voted “yes” and all Republicans voted “no”). The funding level for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) was $30.5 billion, $190 million (0.6 percent) below FY 2011, and the same amount approved by the LHHS Subcommittee during a mark-up session held a few days earlier. Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), the subcommittee chairman, gave a brief opening statement noting that it was a difficult bill to write due to budget constraints. A summary of the Senate LHHS bill is available on the Appropriations Committee website.
During the full committee mark-up, LHHS Subcommittee member, Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS), offered an amendment that would have fully restored the NIH funding cut, “offset” (e.g. paid for) by an across-the-board reduction in all other programs in the bill. Unfortunately, the amendment was rejected 14 – 16 (all Democrats opposed the amendment and all Republicans supported it). Introducing the amendment, Senator Moran acknowledged LHHS Subcommittee Chairman Harkin for his long-standing support of NIH and mentioned the importance of sustaining funding for research in order to “to send a clear signal …that this Congress is not going to do anything but support and continue to support medical research.” Moran also said he wanted to ensure that money would be available to support those that are pursuing careers in medical research, noting that we have to be constant and vigilant to make sure NIH has the resources it needs to do its job. Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), the ranking member of the LHHS Subcommittee, spoke in support of the Moran amendment and stated that NIH was caught in the budget cross-hairs. Chairman Harkin thanked Senator Moran for offering his amendment and said he was glad to have people on the committee who want to support NIH. He also praised Senator Moran for being a very active participant in the subcommittee’s May hearing on the agency’s budget. However, Harkin objected to the Moran amendment offset noting that, “It sounds easy to do an across the board cut, but you take something like special education. This across the board cut would be a $200,000 cut to special education in the state of Kansas.” Harkin added that, “Cutting NIH is not a choice I wanted to make. [But] a [0.6 percent] cut to NIH is just something that I think that they can live with.” FASEB President Joseph C. LaManna sent a letter to Senator Moran thanking him for his efforts to restore the NIH funding cut. Representatives from the American Physiological Society were in Washington recently and met with members of the Senate Appropriations Committee to express concern about the proposed NIH funding cut.
The Senate bill also provides $20 million to activate the Cures Acceleration Network (CAN), and it establishes the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) as part of a broader restructuring at the agency. NCATS will have a total budget of $582 million and house several programs that are currently administered by or funded through other institutes and centers, including CAN and the Clinical and Translational Science Awards (CTSAs). The Appropriations Committee stated that the appropriation for NCATS is sufficient to support the above programs at the same level at which they were funded in FY 2011 and specifically urged no reduction in spending for the CTSAs. Funding for the National Center for Research Resources was eliminated per the recommendation in NIH’s proposal to establish NCATS.
Additional report language accompanying the bill referenced the NIH funding cut noting, “The Committee regrets that fiscal constraints prevent a higher recommended funding level for NIH. With tight budgets likely to continue for the foreseeable future, the Committee strongly urges NIH to explore creative ways to rethink the way it allocates its funding. The alternative—continuing to nick away, little by little, at the success rate or the size of awards—will inevitably have a negative impact on young investigators, who represent the Nation’s future, and on high-risk, high-reward research opportunities.” The Appropriations Committee also indicated that it is eagerly anticipating the release later this year of the Institute of Medicine’s analysis of whether chimpanzees should continue to be used in medical research.