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In Hearing with Researchers, Chairman Blunt Urges Pattern of NIH Funding Increases

Legislative Update
March 8, 2017

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO)
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO)
On March 8, the Senate Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (LHHS) Appropriations Subcommittee held a hearing entitled Saving Lives Through Medical Research that featured National Institutes of Health (NIH)-funded researchers in the areas of cancer, Alzheimer’s and infectious diseases, as well as an emerging researcher funded through NIH’s Institutional Development Award (IDeA) Program.

In his opening statement, Subcommittee Chairman Roy Blunt (R-MO) recognized the power of biomedical research to increase life expectancy, improve quality of life, and lower health care costs. In that regard, he said:

“In the next few years, as we continue to confront difficult spending choices, we must continue to firmly establish our federal commitment to the NIH. We must remain focused on establishing a pattern of responsible investment through the appropriations process. We do not know the scientific advances that will be made in the next ten years, but we do know that if we keep investing in NIH, they will keep making life-saving breakthroughs.”
He emphasized that consistent and sustained increases are necessary, especially for young researchers. He cited the $2 billion NIH increase in Fiscal Year (FY) 2016—which enabled NIH to fund 1,147 more grants nationwide—stating that it “cannot and should not be a one-hit wonder” and should be the start of a pattern of $2 billion NIH increases, as evidenced by the $2 billion NIH increase in the Senate’s FY2017 LHHS bill, which has not yet been finalized (in December 2016, Congress passed a Continuing Resolution to keep the government running through April 28, 2017). He recognized the bipartisan nature of the FY2017 Senate bill—the first such bill in seven years—as well bipartisan support for the 21st Century Cures Act passed by Congress in December 2016 that allocated $4.8 billion over ten fiscal years (2017-2026) to an Innovation Fund to support the BRAIN Initiative, Cancer Moonshot, Precision Medicine Initiative, and Regenerative Medicine using adult stem cells.

With respect to FY2018, he commented that he could not see how the $54 billion increase in defense spending reported to be included in the Trump Budget Framework could not affect NIH funding, since it accounts for 20 percent of the LHHS bill.

In her opening statement, Subcommittee Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) expressed her concern that the reported FY2018 Budget Framework and potential repeal of the Affordable Care Act could “jeopardize patient access to the treatments discovered by NIH.”

Prior to asking questions of the witnesses, Subcommittee members from both sides of the aisle expressed their pride in the bipartisan support for the NIH—and their wish that such bipartisan support extended to other issues.

House LHHS Appropriations Subcommittee Chair Tom Cole (R-OK) has announced an FY2018 NIH budget hearing with NIH Director Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D. for March 21. NAEVR has already submitted written testimony to the House hearing file, associated with its March 8 Public Citizen Witness hearing.