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House Passes NIH Reform Bill with Strong Bipartisan Support

Legislative Update
September 27, 2006

Late on September 26, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed HR 6164, the National Institutes of Health Reform Act of 2006, with a strong bipartisan vote of 414-2, with the two dissenting votes from Cong. Ed Markey (D-MA) and Cong. Jesse Jackson, Jr (D-IL). Earlier in the evening, each side of the aisle managed 20 minutes of discussion on the bill after its introduction by House Energy and Commerce Chairman Joe Barton (R-TX), who lauded the NIH and personalized its research by noting his own family members that had died of major diseases. He announced that 51 national organizations had endorsed the bill, including NAEVR, and stated his hope that the Senate would take up the bill this session and have it on the President’s desk by year’s end.

The Republican discussion, managed by Cong. Michael Burgess, MD, (R-TX) included Members who also lauded the NIH and noted that the bill would address concerns about transparency and efficiency of resources through the "common fund" for trans-Institute research. The Democratic discussion was managed by Cong. Anna Eshoo (D-CA), who joined other speakers in stating that they would support the bill despite their position that the authorized five percent funding increase each year of the three-year reauthorization period was not adequate. Cong. Markey specifically addressed this issue, noting that his amendment to increase the NIH budget by five percent each year OVER the prevailing biomedical inflation rate was voted down along party lines in last week’s markup.

Earlier in the day, NAEVR met briefly with Chairman Barton, who thanked the vision community for its support. NAEVR also met with staff of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, with Senate jurisdiction over NIH. Staff were cautious in their assessment of the Senate HELP Committee’s timetable to take up this bill, noting that they had to more fully study the accompanying Report Language. NAEVR, too, will analyze the Report Language and maintain communications with Senate HELP staff.

NAEVR was on the Hill hand delivering letters to Senators and House Members urging that the full additional $7 billion for Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (LHHS) programs committed to in respective Fiscal Year (FY) 2007 Budget Resolutions is contained in final appropriations. NAEVR’s House letter urges moderate House Republicans to sign onto a "Dear Colleague" letter from Cong. Mike Castle (R-DE) to House leadership. NAEVR’s Senate letter urges Senators who voted for the amendment championed by Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) and Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) to increase FY2007 LHHS funding to sign onto a Specter/Harkin "Dear Colleague" letter to Senate leadership. Action on LHHS appropriations is not expected until after the election recess and possibly through an omnibus spending bill.

The House also approved the FY2007 Defense appropriations bill conference report, which includes a Continuing Resolution to fund the government at FY2006 levels through November 17. Senate action is expected September 27

.