Senator Arlen Specter (R–PA) was the driving force behind securing a $10 billion shot in the arm for the National Institutes of Health in last month's $787 billion stimulus package. Since then, he has emphasized the importance of making the increase part of NIH's baseline budget of $30 billion in calculating future increases. Last night, he told a bipartisan audience of biomedical bigwigs the best way to accomplish that goal: Vote Republican.
"What we need to do is start with $40 billion next year rather than $30 billion," Specter said amid sustained applause.
The event was the annual Advocacy Awards dinner for Research!America, which gave him its Legacy Award for his longtime support for biomedical research. But the crowd of scientists, government officials, and health lobbyists sat on its hands after he delivered his next line: "How do we get this done? By helping me become chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. If you think that's a little political, then you're right." Specter lost his chairmanship of the spending panel that controls NIH's budget after the Democrats won control of the Senate in 2006.
The 79-year-old legislator, who's expected to face a tough primary battle to retain his seat in 2010, admitted that he needs to overcome two obstacles: Win reelection and then jump ahead of Senator Thad Cochran (R–MS), the only Republican on the spending panel who outranks him. But the two-time cancer survivor says he's up for the challenge: "I'm back now, I'm at the top of my game, and I want to make sure that we advance scientific research in America and conquer the maladies of the world."