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Senate bill would give NIH $3 billion in 2020, or 7.7% boost

A Senate spending panel today released a draft 2020 spending bill containing a hefty $3 billion increase for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) that would bring the agency’s total budget to $42.1 billion. That 7.7% boost is $1 billion more than a House of Representatives committee approved in its version of the bill in April, and would complete a 40% increase in NIH’s budget over the past 5 years.

The Senate Committee on Appropriations measure includes a $350 million increase for Alzheimer’s disease research at NIH, bringing the total to $2.82 billion, as well as $50 million for a new Childhood Cancer Data Initiative as part of President Donald Trump’s proposed 10-year, $500 million pediatric cancer research effort. The bill also includes $492 million for the 21st Century Cures Act, which supports the Cancer Moonshot, the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies brain-mapping initiative (which would receive $500 million overall, a $71 million increase), and the All of Us precision medicine study (funded at $500 million, an increase of $161 million). Funding for these programs includes $219 million to make up for a mandatory drop in fiscal year (FY) 2020 in 21st Century Cures funding, which comes from sources that are separate from NIH’s regular budget appropriation.

Like the House bill, the Senate measure rejects Trump’s proposal to move the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality into NIH. But the Senate legislation does not contain $25 million in new NIH funding for firearm injury prevention research that the Democrat-led House Committee on Appropriations added to its version of the bill. Nor does the Senate bill include House language blocking part of a new Trump administration policy that restricts NIH funding for research that uses human fetal tissue donated after elective abortions.

In an unusual step, the Senate appropriations committee released the bill this morning—even though it has yet to vote on the measure. The panel canceled two meetings last week to consider the measure. Republicans and Democrats on the committee have been wrangling over several matters, including abortion policy. But with the start of FY 2020 looming on 1 October, appropriators have been trying to nudge the process along by releasing the bill’s details. The House approved its version of the bill earlier this year.

It is unlikely that Congress will complete its work on FY 2020 spending before 1 October. Instead, it is likely to pass a temporary measure that continues to fund NIH and other federal agencies at this year’s levels until a deal is reached. When the Senate does finalize its bill, the two chambers of Congress will then need to agree on a final NIH funding level.

“A $3 billion increase for NIH would be an incredibly important investment in research,” says Benjamin Krinsky, associate director for legislative affairs at the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology in Bethesda, Maryland. “We certainly hope the two parties can come together in a bipartisan fashion to make this NIH increase a reality.”