Physical scientists offer outside-the-box idea for funding U.S. basic research

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House panel would give NIH a 4% raise to $33 billion

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is slated to receive a $1.25 billion increase, to $33.3 billion, in a proposed spending measure released today by a House of Representatives spending panel. That 4% boost is good news for an agency that has been flat funded for a decade, although it falls short of a 6% raise approved by a Senate panel last month.

“It is encouraging to see the committee making such a substantial investment in medical research,” says Tannaz Rasouli, Senior Director, Public Policy & Strategic Outreach for the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) in Washington, D.C. The bill marks the second year in a row that this same House panel has given NIH an increase that exceeds the rising costs of doing biomedical research. “We are thrilled by that,” says Jennifer Zeitzer, director of legislative relations for the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology in Bethesda, Maryland.

The draft bill released today by the House Appropriations committee includes $350 million more for Alzheimer’s disease research, compared with a $400 million bump for Alzheimer’s in the Senate bill. It includes $300 million (a $100 million increase) that the president had requested for the Precision Medicine Initiative and $45 million more, or a total of $195 million, for the cross-agency Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies brain-mapping initiative. The revamped National Children’s study would receive $165 million, the same level as this year.

Like their counterparts in the Senate, the panel ignored the Obama Administration’s request to cut NIH’s base budget by $1 billion, restore that money, and give the agency a raise by using so-called mandatory funds, which are separate from the regular appropriations process. Nor does it apparently include funding for Vice President Joe Biden’s moonshot to double progress against cancer. The moonshot could still receive funding through separate House and Senate bills to speed medical innovation or, if those bills don’t advance, later in the appropriations process.

Biomedical research advocates hope the final NIH number will be closer to the Senate amount; in past years the two panels have tended to meet in the middle. The AAMC is also concerned about the House bill’s cuts to patient-oriented research and a $54 million, 16% cut to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. The corresponding Senate bill would trim that beleagured agency’s budget by $10 million.

The House appropriations subcommittee that oversees spending for health, labor, and education agencies will take up the measure tomorrow. It will then go to the full House appropriations committee, which has not yet announced a date to consider the bill.