The House Budget Committee held a May 24 hearing on the administration’s fiscal year (FY) 2018 budget proposal [see related story]. The hearing presented an opportunity for committee members to ask questions about the budget, including National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding levels, to Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Mick Mulvaney.
Director Mulvaney defended the president’s budget throughout the hearing. In his opening remarks, he commented on the budget, saying, “…as I went through it, it -- it struck me that we could've come up with a different title. And the title could have been; The Taxpayer First Budget. Because the first time in my memory at least, this is a budget that was written from the perspective the people actually pay for the government."
Members of both parties pushed back on Director Mulvaney’s assertion that the budget prioritizes tax payers. In his opening remarks, Ranking Member John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) stated, “That's what [the budget] does. It pits defense investment against investment in everything else and that's a frightening concept, I think, for…this country if we have to ignore the portion of the federal budget that invests in people, whether job training, education, important medical research and other innovation, or whether we buy guns…but that's what we're being asked to do in this budget.”
House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Chair Tom Cole (R-Okla.) challenged the budget’s cuts to NIH and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Cole stated, “One place where I do think we are being, in your budget, penny wise and pound foolish, are National Institute of Health and Center for Disease Control. Those are relatively modest investments and their investments that congress, on a bipartisan basis, has increased in the last two years. And let me tell you why we've done it. We've done it partly because we think, obviously, it's the right thing to do you want good health outcomes for the American people, but it's also the fiscally prudent thing to do.”
In his reply, Director Mulvaney defended the cuts to NIH and specifically referenced the overhead costs of research. He stated, “But I encourage the entire committee to consider this which is the biggest change we made NIH is to look at the overhead costs. If a private foundation gives a university money, typically the university is required to spend 90 percent of that money on actual research; only 10 percent goes to overhead costs. With our money, it's 72 percent actually goes to research. So I encourage you to look at ways to lower the overhead because if you look at the numbers Mr. Cole, at 90 percent research in our budget, you'd actually be roughly spending the same amount on actual research as you did in previous years.”