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Senate Appropriations Committee Approves FY2006 LHHS Spending Bill Two Days After Subcommittee Markup; Includes $1 Billion Increase for NIH

Legislative Update
July 15, 2005

On July 12, the Senate Labor, Health and Human Services and Education (LHHS) Appropriations Subcommittee marked up the FY2006 LHHS spending bill (HR 3010), adding $1.05 billion for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) or 3.7 percent over FY2005. This is $905 million over the President's FY2006 budget request. By comparison, the House-passed bill includes $28.507 billion for the NIH, an increase of $142.3 million (0.5 percent), but $3 million less than the President's budget request. On July 14, the full Senate Appropriations Committee unanimously approved the bill and sent it to the Senate floor for action, which may not occur until the Senate's return after Labor Day.

Most importantly, the Senate bill recommends FY2006 NEI funding at $693.6 million, an increase of $24.4 million or 3.7 percent over FY2005 and $20 million more than the $4.4 million increase (or 0.7 percent) over FY2005 in the House-passed bill and President's budget request.

To enable an FY2006 funding increase for the NIH and other programs within the spending bill's purview and work around established budget limits, the Subcommittee would move the September 30, 2006, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payment to October 1, 2007, (the beginning of the FY2007 fiscal year). This move makes $3.3 billion available. A similar move was taken last year but failed in conference.

In commenting on the NIH increase, Subcommittee chair Arlen Specter (R-PA) stated that he focused on health care, which he called the "basic capital asset of America," and noted that a healthy workforce is the nation's most valuable asset.

The Report language accompanying the bill states that, with the $1.05 billion increase over FY2005, the NIH would be able to meet all of its current grant-making commitments. The language notes that the President's budget request of a 0.5 percent increase for the NIH in FY2006 would not enable it to keep up with the Biomedical Research and Development Price Index (BRDPI), which would have jeopardized NIH's ability to renew its competing and re-competing research project grants (RPGs). The report stated, "The funding level recommended by the committee will permit the average cost of new and competing RPGs to rise by the BRDPI inflator, or 3.2 percent, instead of being held flat, as proposed in the budget request."

Report language not only "strongly urges" modification of the current Administration policy on embryonic stem cell research (which limits federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research to cell lines created before August 9, 2001), but also expressed concern that the NIH has been slow to implement the current stem cell policy.

Note that on July 12, the Subcommittee also held a hearing on experimental alternative methods of obtaining stem cells that would not harm embryos. A Senate floor vote on S 471 to expand the current embryonic stem cell policy is expected the week of July 18. S 471 is the companion bill to HR 810, which passed the House on May 24. NAEVR will send a separate email and Web site link to enable members to contact their Senators to support S 471.