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Congress Finalizes FY2006 Appropriations with Procedural Moves that Result in Passage of Defense and LHHS Spending Bills

Legislative Update
December 22, 2005

On Wednesday, December 21, in a day full of procedural moves that kept it in session until after midnight, the Senate held a roll call vote that stripped the FY2006 Defense Appropriations bill conference report of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) drilling and related provisions. This facilitated a late evening roll call vote on the Defense spending bill, which passed 93-0. This Defense spending bill has two implications for the eye and vision research community: it imposes a one percent across-the-board cut to all government programs (except veterans benefits), which will affect NIH/NEI funding; and, at the same time, adds “eye and vision” research to the Congressionally-directed Medical Research Program (CDMRP), enabling vision researchers to submit competing grants for a pool of Department of Defense (DOD) research dollars.

In taking action, the Senate made a number of procedural moves that paved the way for the FY2006 Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (LHHS) conference report to be deemed passed without another roll call vote. This required the House to pass the “correcting enrolling resolution” on ANWR that the Senate approved the previous evening, which the House completed on Thursday, December 22.

The procedural move to enable the LHHS conference report to be deemed passed and sent to the President's desk for signing (upon House action on the ANWR provision) was not without controversy, as there was Senate opposition to both the minimal increases in funding levels for health and education programs (including NIH, which will see only a 0.5 percent increase and NEI a 0.7 percent increase prior to the one percent across-the-board cut) and to the conference report being stripped of about $1 billion in earmarks.

Clearly, the entire medical research advocacy is disappointed that the net of these actions means a decrease in NIH funding in 2006, which is the first time that the NIH budget has been cut in 30 years. This is especially of concern for the eye andvision research community, as the NEI-funded discovery of a gene associated with age-related macular degeneration was a very visible and tangible example of the value of research, and which has been heralded by NIH Director Dr. Zerhouni as an NIH breakthrough of the year.