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House Appropriations Committee Approves LHHS Spending Bill One Week After Subcommittee Markup; Senate Announces FY2006 Appropriations Allocations

Legislative Update
June 15, 2005

This afternoon, the full House Appropriations Committee approved the FY2006 Labor, Health and Human Services and Education (LHHS) spending bill with the funding levels for NIH/NEI as set forth by the Subcommittee: NIH at $28.5 billion (a $145 million or 0.5 percent increase over FY2005 for ongoing programs); NEI at $673.5 million, a $4.4 million or 0.7 percent increase over FY2005.

As in the June 9 Subcommittee markup (see below), Ranking Minority member David Obey (D-WI) offered an amendment to increase funding for medical research and education programs, which was defeated along party lines.

Another amendment that was defeated was offered by Dave Weldon (R-FL), which would ban NIH funding to any entity that performs or funds human cloning or research using “all or part of any cloned human embryo or human clone at a later stage of development.” The Weldon amendment was similar to legislation he had sponsored and that had passed the House in each of the last two Congresses, but had not been taken up by the Senate. Due to concern that this topic could threaten full House approval of the larger bill, the amendment was defeated by a coalition of stem cell research supporters and Committee leaders.

In the previous week’s Subcommittee markup, Cong. Obey led the Democratic members’ discussion of concerns about the level of funding for medical research, noting that the proposed 0.5 percent increase for the NIH in FY2006 is the smallest in 36 years and is 2.6 percent short of what the agency estimates it will need to keep up with inflation in research costs. Obey expressed this concern in even more relevant terms noting that, “One result will be that NIH can support about 505 fewer research grants than just two years earlier”, as was previously pointed out by NIH Director Dr. Zerhouni in prior testimony to the Subcommittee. Obey was the lone Subcommittee member to vote against approval.

Subcommittee chair Ralph Regula (R-OH), voicing comments similar to those which prefaced the Subcommittee’s March 9 hearing with Dr. Zerhouni and the several Public Witness hearings in April (in which the eye and vision research community was represented by NAEVR’s Dr. Stephen Ryan and ARVO’s Dr. Gary Abrams), noted that the Subcommittee has “...done the best we could with the amount of money that we have.”

Also on June 9, Senate Appropriations Committee chair Thad Cochran (R-MS) announced FY2006 302(b) Subcommittee allocations, including $141.3 billion dollars for the LHHS spending bill, which is the same as the President’s budget request but less than the House’s allocation of $142.51 billion. The Senate LHHS Subcommittee has yet to schedule its markup, which is not currently on the calendar for June.