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Senate Appropriations Committee Approves FY2012 LHHS Funding Bill That Cuts Most NIH Institutes by One Percent

Legislative Update
September 23, 2011

On September 22, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved the Fiscal Year (FY) 2012 Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (LHHS) spending bill, which includes $30.5 billion for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a decrease of $190 million from the FY2011 level of $30.7 billion, or 0.6% decrease. In FY2011, NIH was funded at $30.7 billion, which was a one percent decrease from FY2010, or $320 million cut. Prior to its 16-14 vote along party lines to approve the bill, Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS) offered an amendment that would have restored the $190 million cut through an across-the-board cut to all other programs in the bill. That amendment failed.

The bill creates the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) as part of a broader restructuring that also includes the elimination of the National Center for Research Resources (NCRR) and transfer of many of its programs to NCATS and other Institutes. The mission of NCATS is to transform the way NIH pursues the translation of basic science into treatments and cures. A new program within NCATS, the Cures Acceleration Network (CAN), is funded at $20 million. Although CAN was authorized at $500 million in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act [P.L. 111-148], the FY2012 funding bill reflects the first time that it would be appropriated funding. CAN’s purpose is to speed the translation of new diagnostics and therapies from “bench to bedside.”

To help fund CAN, most Institutes and Centers (I/Cs) received a cut of 1.13 percent, except for those absorbing former NCRR programs. For the National Eye Institute (NEI), the 1.13 percent cut results in FY2012 funding at $692.9 million, a reduction of $7.9 million from FY2011. This cut was made despite the bill’s Report Language commending the NEI for its leadership in translational research, the genetic basis of eye disease, age-related macular degeneration, and diabetic retinopathy, reflecting text submitted by NAEVR. Since NEI was also cut by one percent in FY2011 as compared to FY2010, or $6.2 million, that would mean NEI cuts of $14.1 million over the two fiscal years. NAEVR has issued a statement expressing concern about these NEI cuts, especially in light of the challenges it faces during the Decade of Vision 2010-2020.

On September 21 at the LHHS Subcommittee’s markup, Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) lamented the $308 million reduction in the FY2012 LHHS allocation as compared to FY2011 but urged the Subcommittee to approve the bill as written. Republican members expressed concerns about the bill, specifically funds used to implement various aspects of the Affordable Care Act. In the end, the Subcommittee approved the bill 10-8 along party lines. Chairman Harkin stated that the Senate LHHS markup “will be the only LHHS bill marked up for this fiscal year. The House LHHS Subcommittee was scheduled to consider a bill two weeks ago, but the majority couldn’t muster enough votes to pass it, and has abandoned all attempts to do so.”

As the Senate proceeded with several of its FY2012 funding bill markups, Congress continued to work on passage of a Continuing Resolution (CR) that would fund the government after FY2012 begins on October 1 and through November 18-just days before the “Super Committee’ is expected to issue its debt ceiling/deficit reduction recommendations.