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Senate Budget Resolution Passes and Includes "Specter Amendment" to Increase FY2005 NIH Funding; House Budget Committee Begins Markup

Legislative Update
March 12, 2004

Early in the morning of March 12, the Senate adjourned after passing Concurrent Budget Resolution 95 by a vote of 51 to 45. At 11:30 pm the previous evening, March 11, the Senate passed the Specter amendment (SA 2741) by a vote of 72 to 24, which would increase funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) by $1.3 billion, bringing the resolution's overall recommendation for the NIH to approximately $29.9 billion, or an increase of 7.2 % over FY2004's level of $28 billion. This spending increase would be offset by a .246% across-the-board cut to Function 920 expenses (government-wide travel/administrative).

Most importantly for the eye and vision community is the fact that, in introducing the amendment, which was co-sponsored by Sen. Harkin (D-IA) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), Senator Specter listed several of NIH's accomplishments in finding treatments for medical maladies that included glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration. And, in addressing what the NIH could do with more funding, Senator Specter specifically noted that the NIH could proceed with a Clinical Trials Network for Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD), the leading cause of blindness for people age 60+. The US currently has more than 30 million citizens age 40+ who are at risk of developing AMD.

Earlier in the evening, the Harkin Amendment (SA 2799), which would have increased funding for Function 550 Public Health Service (including NIH) through an increase in the tobacco tax, failed in a vote of 32 to 64.

Also yesterday, the House Budget Committee began its markup a day and several hours later than that originally scheduled, primarily due to ongoing discussions about defense spending and budget enforcement mechanisms. The markup will resume on Wednesday, March 17. House Budget Committee Chair Nussle (R-IA) still anticipates going to conference the week of March 22 with a Budget Resolution passed by April 2, prior to the Easter recess.

The eye and vision research community sent hundreds of email letters to the Senate prior to the vote, urging adequate funding for the NIH. NAEVR also joined with more than 300 other healthcare organizations through the ad hoc Group for Medical Research Funding in supporting the amendment.

Within the next week, NAEVR will initiate a new advocacy campaign as the House considers its version of the Budget Resolution.