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President's Budget Proposal is Submitted to Congress; Proposed FY2006 Funding for the NIH/NEI is Less Than One Percent

Legislative Update
February 8, 2005

On February 7, President Bush submitted the proposed Fiscal Year (FY) 2006 budget to Congress. Concurrently, the National Eye Institute (NEI) released its FY2006 Congressional Justification.

President's Budget

Although spending by the Department of Health and Human Services would rise by $58 billion to $642 billion in FY2006 (primarily for mandated programs, such as Medicare and Medicaid), the discretionary budget authority (which includes funding for the National Institutes of Health, or NIH, as well as the NEI) would decline by $300 million to $68.9 billion, a decrease of 0.5 percent.

NIH funding would rise by $196 million ($50 million of which reflects programs under other Agency budget authority). The net $146 million increase within HHS budget authority represents a 0.5 percent increase, from approximately $28.4 billion to $28.5 billion. (For comparison, the net FY2005 NIH budget increase was 2 percent over FY2004). If the FY2006 proposed budget level is enacted, it will be the smallest percentage increase since 1970.

NEI funding would increase to $673.5 million, which is a $4.4 million or 0.7 percent increase over the net FY2005 appropriation of $669 million, which was a 2.5 percent increase over FY2004 funding. (The FY2005 NEI-appropriated amount of $674.5 million was reduced to $669 million by an across-the-board 0.8 percent cut to all non-defense, non homeland security programs, as well as administrative cuts).

The release of the President's budget follows his February 2 State of the Union Address, in which he said the following about medical research:

"Because a society is measured by how it treats the weak and vulnerable, we must strive to build a culture of life. Medical research can help us reach that goal, by developing treatments and cures that save lives and help people overcome disabilities. And I thank the Congress for doubling the funding of the National Institutes of Health. To build a culture of life, we must also ensure that scientific advances always serve human dignity, not take advantage of some lives for the benefit of others. We should all be able to agree on some clear standards. I will work with Congress to ensure that human embryos are not created for experimentation or grown for body parts and that human life is never bought or sold as a commodity. America will continue to lead the world in medical research that is ambitious, aggressive and always ethical."

With NIH re-authorization hearings planned in the 109 th Congress by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, led by Cong. Joe Barton (R-TX), NIH budget priorities and research with respect to stem cells will likely take center stage this year, in addition to its focus at the Senate and House Labor, Health and Human Services and Education (LHHS) Subcommittee hearings, usually held in the March-April timeframe. NAEVR has submitted a request to provide "Citizen Witness" testimony at the upcoming House LHHS Subcommittee hearing.

Senator Specter Stays as Senate LHHS Subcommittee Chair

In the February 8 The Washington Post, Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) announced that he has decided to stay on as the Chair of the Labor/HHS/Education (LHHS) Subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee. As far back as December and passage of the Intelligence reform bill, Sen. Specter had indicated that he might move to a newly created Intelligence Subcommittee. NAEVR, joining with colleagues in the medical research community, wrote to the Senator, urging him to consider staying on as LHHS Subcommittee Chair, since his leadership was crucial in the current fiscal environment.

Senator Specter notes that, "FY2006 looks like an especially tough year," and leads his list of budget concerns with funding for the NIH, in which he acknowledges the bipartisan work with Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) to double the NIH budget. He states that, "those gains may be nullified unless increases in funding continues."

With Senator Specter's announcement, the leadership of the committees and subcommittees relating to NIH/NEI appropriations is now complete. Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS) chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee; Senator Specter chairs the LHHS Subcommittee. Cong. Jerry Lewis (R-CA) chairs the House Appropriations Committee; Cong. Ralph Regula (R-OH) chairs the LHHS Subcommittee.

NAEVR Advocacy

At a January 25 reception to release the new Vision and Blindness fact sheet developed by Research!America in consultation with NAEVR, Senator Jim Jeffords (I-VT) spoke passionately about his recent cataract surgery. A champion for medical research, health and aging issues, the Senator provided his own personal observation about the value of eye and vision research. Internationally noted ophthalmic researcher Dr. Neil Bressler (Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine) reported on his recently published NEI-sponsored research in which patients with advanced age-related macular degeneration (AMD) equated the 'preference value' for this condition to symptomatic AIDS or chronic renal failure on home dialysis ( Archives of Ophthalmology, December 2004).

NAEVR is pleased that it was able to bring together key Congressional staff and the community of support for eye and vision research so early in the FY2006 budget and appropriations process. NAEVR will continue to advocate for $711 million for the NEI in the FY2006 budget (a 6 percent increase) so that its research can result in treatments and therapies to prevent the onset of eye disease and restore vision.