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Senate and House Pass Respective Budget Resolutions: Senate Passes Specter Amendment to Increase NIH Funding by $1.5 Billion

Legislative Update
March 18, 2005

Late in the evening of March 17, the Senate passed the Fiscal Year (FY) 2006 Budget Resolution (S. Con. Res. 18) by a vote of 51-49, which provides a total of $848.8 billion in discretionary spending, about $5.4 billion more than that in the House version of the bill (H. Con. Res. 95) and the President's budget proposal. The increase in discretionary spending of $5.4 billion is a result of an earlier Senate approval, by a vote of 51-49, of an amendment (S. Amdt.177) introduced by Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) to increase funding for education.

The Senate bill now goes to conference with the House bill, which passed earlier in the day by a vote of 218-214 and, as noted above, differs as to the total discretionary funds that will ultimately be made available to the Appropriators.

The bills also differ on the amount within the Budget Function 550 "Health" category for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), as the Senate passed by a vote of 63 to 37 an amendment (S. Amdt. 173) offered by Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) that adds $1.5 billion to the NIH's FY2006 budget, bringing it to $29.9 billion or a 6 percent increase over FY2005. The Senate bill's increase to Function 550 would be offset by a concomitant reduction in Function 920 (Administrative Expenses). The House version of the bill maintains the President's budget proposal of $28.4 billion for the NIH, or a 0.7 percent increase over FY2005 (0.5 percent of which is for continuing NIH programs, while the remainder is for biodefense-related programs). Earlier in the day, however, Cong. David Obey (D-WI) offered an amendment that failed which would have reduced proposed tax cuts and added funds to a variety of budget categories, including Function 550.

NAEVR Legislative Counsel John Porter acknowledges that the Senate's action on the Specter Amendment was important because "it was one of the few amendments to pass, and in passing by an almost two-to-one margin, it demonstrates the level of support in the Senate for the NIH and sends a strong message to new Senate Appropriations Committee chair Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS)."

As background, NAEVR had previously joined with its coalition partners in requesting NIH funding in FY2006 at $30 billion, and has included this request in written testimony submitted to the March 9 hearing of the House LHHS Appropriations Subcommittee. NAEVR has also requested FY2006 funding for the National Eye Institute (NEI) at $711 million, or a 6 percent increase over FY2005.

Senator Specter's action yesterday was similar to a successful amendment he had offered up in the Senate's FY2005 Budget Resolution debate in March 2004. Once again, he introduced yesterday's amendment with a moving introduction about the value of medical research, made all that more poignant this year due to his currently being treated for Hodgkin's Disease. Excerpts from the full text include:

"NIH has made remarkable advances on an enormous list of very major diseases and they are worth itemizing because each one of these strikes thousands of Americans, including............glaucoma, macular degeneration. To families of people who suffer with these ailments, they are catastrophic. The NIH has had increases in this budget on a commitment by this body to double NIH, and we have increased the funding very substantially. But last year and the year before and this year, the funding well has not proceeded at it should. When you talk about a budget of $28 billion for the NIH, when you have an overall budget of approximately $2.67 trillion, $28 billion is totally insufficient."

"If there is not an increase in funding for the NIH, there will be 402 less grants awarded next year than last year. The [FY2006] increase of less than $200 million does not begin to approximate the replacement [inflation] rate for chemical, biomedical research which is 3.5 percent."

"My interest in medical research occurred long before I developed a current problem, which has been publicized, with Hodgkin's, and I am glad to say that there is a cure for the particular problem I had. But in many forms of cancer there is no cure..... We ought to win the war on cancer."

"I know the distinguished chairman of the Budget Committee has enormous problems. I compliment him on taking on what is probably the toughest job in the Senate, to try to find a way to make allocations on the budget. But among the priorities.... I would say that health is highest. If you don't have your health, you can't do anything else. ... This $1.5 billion is a modest step."