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Senate Appropriations Committee Approves FY2016 LHHS Funding Bill with $2 Billion NIH Increase

Legislative Update
June 25, 2015

On June 25, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved by a vote of 16-14 along party lines the $153.2 billion Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (LHHS) appropriations bill, which had been marked up on June 23 by the Senate LHHS Appropriations Subcommittee. The bill is $3.6 billion below the FY2015 level and $14.5 billion below the President’s budget request.

The bill funds the National Institutes of Health (NIH) at $32.08 billion, an increase of $2 billion or 5.6 percent over FY2015 funding and the largest increase the NIH has received since the doubling ended in FY2003. The bill would fund the National Eye Institute (NEI) at $709.5 million, a $25.3 million or 3.6 percent increase over its FY2015 appropriated level and $32.7 million or 4.7 percent increase over its FY2015 Operational Net.

The bill’s Report Language for the NEI reflects that which was submitted by NAEVR, focusing on NEI’s leadership with its Audacious Goals Initiative and in determining the genetic basis of eye disease, especially age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and glaucoma. Additional language regarding Usher Syndrome urges the NEI to continue to prioritize research into this leading cause of deaf-blindness. In Report Language associated with the Office of the Director, the Committee commends NIH for including Usher Syndrome in the Estimates of Funding for Various Research, Condition, and Disease Categories list to track the annual support level for the disease, and urges NIH to prioritize this research at the NEI and the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communications Disorders (NIDCD), specifically requesting that the FY2017 Congressional Justification report on research activities, especially coordinating on common goals and objectives.

NAEVR had joined its biomedical research colleagues in calling for FY2016 NIH funding of at least $32 billion, so the Senate has been responsive. In a June 23 article in The Hill, LHHS Appropriations Subcommittee Chair Roy Blunt (R-MO) stated his reasons for supporting the $2 billion increase: “A bold commitment to the NIH is essential to address our nation’s growing health concerns, spur medical innovation, sustain America’s competitiveness, and reduce healthcare costs.” Democratic Whip and Committee/Subcommittee member Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) praised Chairman Blunt’s leadership, stating that, “the bill proposes a turnaround number for NIH funding, making history with what I hope are sustained annual increases.” Senator Durbin has proposed legislation that would mandate at least a five percent annual NIH increase.

NAEVR had also requested NEI funding at $730 million. Although the bill funds the NEI at $709.5 million, that finally increases NEI funding above the FY2012 pre-sequester level of $702.1 million. NAEVR has issued a statement thanking the Committee for its action.

As with the House, NAEVR engaged the vison community through this process:

As with the House bill, the Senate bill has provisions that address a number of specific diseases and initiatives, including:

  • the full $200 million requested by the Administration for the Precision Medicine Initiative (PMI);
  • $350 million increase for the National Institute on Aging, the lead Institute researching Alzheimer’s disease;
  • $135 million, an increase of $70 million, for the Brain Research through Application of Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative;
  • $461 million, an increase of $100 million, for the antibiotic resistance initiative;
  • $300 million, an increase of $26.7 million, for the Institutional Development Award (IDeA) program;
  • And increases to every Institute and Center to continue investments in innovative research.

The Senate bill maintains the extramural salary limit at Executive Level II ($183,300 in FY2015), while the House bill would reduce it to EL III ($168,700 in FY2015), a decrease of $14,600 or 8 percent. NAEVR will join the biomedical research community in urging Congressional leaders to maintain EL II if and when the House and Senate bills are conferenced.

Like the House bill, the Senate bill focuses on priorities as defined by the Subcommittee members and funded those by cutting or eliminating programs—especially those funding Affordable Care Act implementation. Although the Senate bill did not eliminate funding for the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) as in the House bill, it cuts its funding by 35 percent.

At the June 23 Subcommittee markup, Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) stated that she could not support the bill-due to funding cuts to certain programs and the policy riders-and urged her colleagues from both sides of the aisle to develop a bipartisan agreement that would preclude funding cuts, as was done by Congress in late 2013 (the Murray-Ryan agreement) that funded Fiscal Years 2014 and 2015. Her concerns were echoed in statements by the Subcommittee’s Democratic members. She also voiced those comments at the June 25 full Committee markup, which were then echoed by Committee Vice Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), who offered an amendment to fund the bill at the President’s proposed level, which was defeated 16-14 along party lines.