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Congress Passes NIH Reauthorization Legislation and Funds Government Programs Through February 15, 2007

Legislative Update
December 11, 2006

Early on the morning of December 9, the 109th Congress adjourned after passing several important pieces of legislation, including a bill to reauthorize the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for the first time since 1993. The bill represented several Senate–generated "improvements" over the bill passed by the House in late September, which was endorsed by NAEVR. These improvements, which were in response to input from the medical advocacy community, including NAEVR, were generated by Senate appropriators and driven by Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee Ranking Member Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) in negotiations with Senate HELP Committee Chair Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY) and House Energy and Commerce Chair Joe Barton (R-TX).

In summary, the legislation includes an authorized 7 percent increase in NIH funding in FY2007, 8 percent in FY2008 and "as sums as may be necessary" in FY2009, although the actual final funding levels will be dependent on the appropriators. Since Congress adjourned without finalizing FY2007 appropriations for all government programs except defense and homeland security-passing instead a Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund the government until February 15, 2007-the Democratically-led Congress must either finalize FY2007 appropriations by that date or pass a year-long CR. Clearly,

Dr. Jason Ng (University of California at Berkeley School of Optometry) sends an email to Congress urging increased NIH/NEI funding
Dr. Jason Ng (University of California at Berkeley School of Optometry) sends an email to Congress urging increased NIH/NEI funding

the NIH reauthorization legislation represents a strong statement by the authorizers to Congress about the value of the NIH and the need for funding increases. This past weekend, NAEVR hosted a "Contact Congress" booth at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Optometry at which attendees urged their legislators to finalize and increase NIH/NEI funding when the 110th Congress begins in early January 2007.

Both the authorizers and appropriators will play an active role in oversight of the expanded discretion provided to the NIH Director, including review of any management or structural changes recommended by the new Scientific Management Review Board. Although the legislation does create the "common fund" for trans-Institute research, it is not funded by 50 percent of all new monies up to a level of 5 percent of the overall NIH budget. Rather, the Director will work with the newly created "Council of Councils" to recommend trans-Institute research and an appropriate reserve fund for this research, subject to the appropriators.

NAEVR Executive Director James Jorkasky commented that, "We certainly did come a long way on this bill, and NAEVR will generate all of the appropriate communications of commendation to the various leaders for their bipartisan efforts." He noted that, as NAEVR Legislative Counsel John Porter has said, in taking its "high road" approach as a credible and reliable source of information to the staffs of these committees, NAEVR has established and/or reinforced excellent relationships moving forward on a number of other key issues, and Capitol Hill is keenly aware of the leadership role that the National Eye Institute (NEI) has taken in trans-Institute research.

Other vision community issues in the end-of-session legislation included action to prevent Medicare physician fee reductions and a bill sponsored by outgoing Veterans Affairs Committee Chair Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID) that would add $2 million for additional blind rehabilitation specialists and increases the number of facilities where the specialists would be located.