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Senate Passes FY 2006 LHHS Appropriations Bill;
Vision Community First to Express Appreciation to Senate Offices

Legislative Update
October 28, 2005

Late yesterday, the Senate passed by a vote of 94-3 the Fiscal Year (FY) 2006 Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (LHHS) Appropriations bill (HR 3010). The Senate bill contains $29.4 billion for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and $694 million for the National Eye Institute (NEI), which is $1 billion more for the NIH and $20 million more for the NEI than in the House version of the bill, passed in June.

The House and Senate conferees (the LHHS Appropriations Subcommittees from each chamber) must resolve this difference at a critical time in which the highest possible amount for NIH funding is necessary to offset what could be potential 1-2 percent across-the-board cuts to FY2006 spending, currently being considered in the budget reconciliation process expected for Congressional action this week (including prospective cuts to FY2006 spending for appropriations bills not yet finalized). Even without the impact of across-the-board cuts, the higher Senate number reflects an essentially flat budget for NIH/NEI, as its 3.7 percent increase over FY2005 will largely be eroded by the current 3.2 percent biomedical inflation rate.

In addition to resolving the NIH funding difference, the conferees must also address the $8 billion in the Senate bill in emergency spending for pandemic influenza preparedness, which is not in the House bill. Senate LHHS Appropriations Subcommittee Ranking Member Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) proposed the successfully adopted amendment during Senate floor debate on the bill. Although Senator Harkin had attached $4 billion in similar spending to the Senate Defense Appropriations bill passed in early October, he noted that additional funds were necessary, based on his consultation with the NIH and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Although details about what portions of the Department of Health and Human Services will mange these funds still need to be worked out, President Bush is expected to address the nation this Tuesday from the NIH campus on the administration's preparedness plans.

In more than 60 Capitol Hill visits, the eye and vision research community was the first to thank Senate offices today during a "Lobby Day" of the Board of Directors of the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO), one of NAEVR's largest member organizations. The ARVO member visits followed hundreds of letters sent through NAEVR's Web site last week to Senators supporting passage of the funding bill.

Not only did ARVO members thank Senators in visits, they also urged their House Members to support the highest possible number for NIH funding in conference. In a corollary message, ARVO members also expressed the eye and vision community's opposition to the proposed budget clusters/elimination of line item budgets that currently appears in an Energy and Commerce draft of NIH reauthorization legislation. In total, 35 House and Senate offices directly engaged in appropriations, authorization (House Energy and Commerce, Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions), defense appropriations and aging were visited.