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Senate Appropriations Committee Approves FY2007 LHHS Spending Bill with a $200 Million NIH Increase, $5.4 Million NEI Increase, Over Presidentís Proposal

Legislative Update
July 21, 2006

On July 20, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved the last of its Fiscal Year (FY) 2007 appropriations bills, including the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (LHHS) spending bill. The Senate bill adds $200 million to the budget for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) over that in the Presidentís budget proposal, resulting in an appropriation of $28.5 billion as compared to the $28.3 billion in the Presidentís budget, which is also the funding level in the FY2007 House LHHS bill. The Senate bill funds the National Eye Institute (NEI) at $666.9 million, an increase of $5.5 million over the Presidentís budget request/House LHHS bill funding level of $661.4 million, and $600,000 greater than FY2006 NEI funding.

The Senate billís report language for the NEI acknowledges the NEI-funded discovery of variants of a gene strongly associated with the risk of developing age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the leading cause of blindness in the United States. The Committee urges the NEI to "move on an expedited basis to translate this finding into treatment for those suffering with this condition." In May 19 testimony to the Senate LHHS Appropriations Subcommittee on behalf of NAEVR, Dr. Peter McDonnell (Wilmer Eye Institute/Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine) identified the "missed opportunities" at NEI to follow up on this discovery due to the Presidentís proposed budget. NAEVR was one of 20 advocacy groups invited by Subcommittee Chair Arlen Specter (R-PA) to testify on the impact of the Presidentís budget proposal.

In introductory comments on the LHHS bill at the Committee markup, Senator Specter acknowledged that, while the $5 billion added to the FY2007 LHHS allocation above the Presidentís budget was helpful, it was still less than the $7.1 billion increase in the Specter/Harkin amendment included in the Senate Budget Resolution passed on March 16 and far short of the $10 billion necessary to keep up with inflation. Senator Specter stated that current funding represents a "disintegration of the appropriate federal role in health, education and worker safety." LHHS Subcommittee Ranking Member Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) vowed to work to get the additional $2 billion in the LHHS bill in Senate floor action.

The Senate is likely to initiate floor action on national security-related bills after the summer recess, with action on other bills not expected until a post-election "lame duck" session and potentially bundled into an omnibus bill. The House has already passed all of its appropriations bills except for the LHHS bill, which has been delayed due to the inclusion of a controversial provision to increase the minimum wage.

Medical research was also the subject of extensive discussion during the July 20 Committee markup of the Defense Appropriations bill. Subcommittee Chair Ted Stevens (R-AL) noted that the Subcommittee had received $3 billion of non defense-related medical research requests, most of which could not be accommodated. He expressed concern about the "migration" of medical research funding to the defense spending bill, especially since funds re-allocated from defense enabled the $5 billion increase in the FY 2007 LHHS spending bill allocation which resulted in an NIH increase. Readers should note that the Congressionally-directed Medical Research Program (CDMRP), in which eye and vision research is now listed as eligible, is a separate program for defense-related research that is not funded through direct earmarks.