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Senate Appropriators Discuss NIH Funding

April 4, 2014—Both Democratic and Republican appropriators agreed on the need to increase funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) but provided no answers on where the additional funds could be found. The discussion took place at an April 2 hearing of the Senate Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee on the president’s FY 2015 budget request for the agency.

The hearing also served as a valedictory for Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), who has served as chair or ranking member on the subcommittee since 1989, and was presiding over his final hearing on the NIH budget. Senators Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), the chair and ranking member, respectively, of the full Appropriations Committee, joined other subcommittee members and NIH Director Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D., in praising Chairman Harkin for his leadership.

Dr. Collins’ testimony emphasized progress and opportunities in three areas: the universal influenza vaccine, the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) initiative, and cancer immunotherapy.

In response to a question from Chairwoman Mikulski about whether it would be better to have sustained steady growth in funding or a “Manhattan Project” approach to research, Dr. Collins replied that it would be “vastly better… for us to be able to count on a more or less stable trajectory of inflation plus some percentage that you could be fairly confident was going to be maintained.”

Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), asked Dr. Collins whether he stood by a comment he made to the senator that “Give us 5 percent real growth per year for 10 years over the cost of living and we will show you the kind of growth in research that America and the world needs.”

Dr. Collins replied that such a funding trajectory “would get us back to where we really need to be in a few years and would give such a jolt of confidence and excitement to frankly a fairly demoralized medical research community.”

Republicans echoed support for increasing the NIH budget.  Senator Jerry Moran (Kan.), the ranking Republican on the subcommittee, said, “This is the time of promise in research, and the United States should be at the forefront in this era. To do so we must commit pay for the research.”

Chairman Shelby, agreed, saying “that NIH I think by far is the best investment we have made. And we should make sure that this is properly funded….”

But Chairman Harkin cautioned, “The Murray-Ryan budget deal partially replaced the sequester for the coming year. And while I'm pleased that the subcommittee has a solid top line figure to work with, these out-year budget caps are wreaking havoc on NIH and other national priorities. With a non-defense [spending] cap that increases by $183 million this year it is mathematically impossible to fully replace the remaining NIH sequester and provide just an inflationary increase to NIH without forcing additional cost to education and job training and other priorities.”


Dave Moore
Senior Director, Government Relations
Telephone: 202-828-0559


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Washington Highlights, a weekly electronic newsletter, features brief updates on the latest legislative and regulatory activities affecting medical schools and teaching hospitals.

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Jason Kleinman
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Telephone: 202-903-0806