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House LHHS Appropriations Subcommittee Approves FY2007 Funding Bill

Legislative Update
June 7, 2006

After a markup session held this morning, the House Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (LHHS) Appropriations Subcommittee approved a Fiscal Year (FY) 2007 bill, with a vote of 9-7 along party lines. The full House Appropriations Committee is expected to consider the bill on Monday, June 12.

Despite the addition of $4.1 billion to the LHHS bill above the President’s FY2007 budget request (and about $900 million above comparable FY2006), the bill does not increase funding for the NIH or individual Institutes above the President’s budget request of $28.258 billion, which would flat-fund NIH at the FY2006 level. As a result, the bill retains the proposed decrease in funding for the National Eye Institute (NEI) of 0.8 percent, or $5.3 million, to an FY2007 level of $661.3 million.

In his introductory comments, Subcommittee chair Ralph Regula (R-OH) acknowledged the limits within which the Subcommittee had to operate and primarily noted the bill’s proposed increases for education and community health centers. House Appropriations chair Jerry Lewis (R-CA) did comment about the NIH-in both a press release about the bill and at the markup. The press release emphasized that NIH’s budget had already been increased by 120 percent over the last decade. Although stating in markup comments that NIH was the LHHS program that has most impressed him during his tenure as Appropriations chair (he is in his second year), he said that not every dollar at NIH is being used wisely. He emphasized that he had urged NIH Director Dr. Zerhouni to examine the programs that work and those that do not. He did not specifically mention potential NIH reauthorization legislation, which is currently being developed within the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Its Chair, Joe Barton (R-TX), announced in a June 2 meeting attended by NAEVR that a legislative draft that significantly revises a draft circulated in July 2005 would likely issue by late June. Click here to read more.

The Democratic Members, while offering no amendments, did express concern about the bill, primarily the allocation under which Chairman Regula and the Subcommittee had to operate. Ranking member David Obey (D-WI) commented that the bill’s limited funding for those less fortunate was the result of further tax cuts for those with greater economic opportunities. He specifically cited concern about the NIH, noting that its purchasing power will be reduced by 4 percent from FY2006 (due to the biomedical inflation rate) and will have experienced an overall 11 percent reduction in purchasing power since the doubling ended in FY2003. Subcommittee member and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) responded to Chairman Lewis’ comments that some dollars appropriated by the Subcommittee are not being used effectively. He noted the lack of Subcommittee oversight by acknowledging that it had held only one hearing on NIH this session, as opposed to multiple days of hearings featuring all Institute/Center Directors as had been held when he joined the Subcommittee. Cong. Hoyer added his concern about “missed opportunities” for new discoveries and potential loss of young investigators due to NIH funding decreases, net of the impact of inflation.

Chairman Lewis and Chairman Regula commented that the House would “try to improve the bill’s funding”, which was a reference to the $7.1 billion over the President’s budget request that was recognized by the House as that necessary for health and education programs, as stated in an amendment to the Rules for the House Budget Resolution passed on May 18. That would require $3 billion beyond the $4.1 billion of additional funding already reflected in the bill.

NAEVR will continue to work with its medical research advocacy colleagues to impress upon the House, as well as the Senate-which has not yet issued its Subcommittee allocations or begun markup on appropriations bills-about the importance of adequately funding the NIH. Click here to read NAEVR’s comprehensive comments about FY2007 NIH/NEI funding.