The Senate Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee Oct. 7 held a hearing to discuss the importance of investing in the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the need to increase funding.
In his opening remarks, Subcommittee Chair Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) noted the decade long decrease in NIH purchasing power, which has “decreased by about twenty two percent.” In addition, Chairman Blunt pointed out the subcommittee has placed a “high priority” on biomedical research, and expressed concern that the chances of “young researchers having a research grant approved are dramatically less than they were a decade ago.” The fiscal year (FY) 2016 Labor-HHS-Education spending bill approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee on June 24 provides $32.1 billion for NIH [see Washington Highlights, June 26].
Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) reiterated the importance of increased NIH funding, and asked NIH Director Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D., to explain how a one-year continuing resolution (CR) would impact NIH. Dr. Collins stated that a year-long CR would be “devastating.” He continued by stating that NIH would likely have to halt both the Precision Medicine Initiative and Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative, and that a year-long CR would be a “dark year.”
Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) emphasized that Congress needs to lift the budget caps, because “we cannot cap innovation, we cannot cap breakthroughs.” In addition, she also discussed the impact the budget has on young researchers entering the field, which the panel identified as a priority.
In his testimony and throughout the hearing, Dr. Collins highlighted the role NIH will have in the President’s Precision Medicine Initiative by building a “large national research cohort of one million or more Americans that will provide the platform for expanding our knowledge of precision medicine approaches and benefit the nation for years to come.”
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) raised his concerns over challenges with mixing discretionary and mandatory spending, such as the $8.75 billion mandatory funding pool for NIH established in the House-passed 21st Century Cures Act (H.R. 6). Sen. Alexander chairs the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, which is drafting its own research-focused legislation.