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Billions in Biomed Boosts?

Biomedical research may be headed for a big 2-year boost in the stimulus bill—more than even some lobbyists expected. In debate last night, the Senate agreed by voice vote to an amendment from Republican Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania that would add an extra $6.5 billion to the $3.5 billion already proposed in the Senate's draft bill for the National Institutes of Health. Both the House and the Senate had planned to give NIH $3.5 billion.

The House version would steer $1.5 billion of the total through NIH's National Center for Research Resources for extramural facilities and equipment, whereas the initial Senate plan put just $300 million in that category. (Both propose $500 million for renovation of NIH campus facilities and the remainder for extramural research.) With last night's amendment, the Senate bill would provide a total of $10 billion for NIH, of which $9.2 billion would go to extramural research. It passed with little debate. Whether that big number will stick in the final bill is anyone's guess. In the past, big increases for NIH proposed in the Senate have resulted in a difference-splitting compromise between the House and Senate. Lobbyist Jennifer Zeitzer of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology says it "will be difficult to keep [the Senate’s] figure" in conference with the House.