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House Passes LHHS Bill; Senate Begins Markup

Legislative Update
September 10, 2004

As AEVR's Vision Health Disparities Research Capitol Hill Briefing speakers Dr. Rohit Varma (Doheny Eye Institute/University of Southern California) and Dr. Mildred Olivier (Midwest Glaucoma Center, P.C.) were addressing about 70 attendees on mid-day Wednesday, September 8, the House was engaged in floor action that ultimately resulted in passage of the FY2005 Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (LHHS) spending bill (HR 5006) last evening, September 9. The bill passed by 388 "Yeas" to 13 "Nays" and formalized the NIH and NEI funding levels proposed in the President's budget ($28.5 billion for the NIH, or a 2.6% increase; and $671.6 million for the NEI, or a 2.9% increase).

Within the 300 pages of the bill's Report (Report 108-636), the House Appropriations Committee included language about the NIH (on page 61) that: endorses the Administration's support of the NIH Roadmap; provides $1.7 for bioterrorism activities but defers to the NIH Director regarding priorities; encourages the NIH Director to distribute funding on the basis of scientific opportunity (and urges the Administration to resist pressures to earmark, set aside or politicize these resources); defers to the NIH Director to determine the best use of AIDS funding; and commends the NIH Director for issuing proposals announced last June 22 at a House Energy and Commerce Hearing regarding conflict of interest/investigator relationships.

On p. 87 of the Report, the Committee presented language regarding NEI funding that: recognizes the progress made in demonstrating the effectiveness of gene therapy for several retinal diseases and encourages NEI to facilitate clinical trials in primates and humans; commends the NEI for establishing the Diabetic Retinopathy Clinical Trial Network and encourages further efforts for early diagnosis and treatment; encourages NEI to participate with other Institutes in determining the genes for diabetes that subsequently result in co-morbidities (e.g., diabetic retinopathy); and specifically requests that NEI report on its advances in research on Ocular Albinism at FY2006 Appropriations hearings.

On the Senate side, the LHHS Appropriations Subcommittee is currently conducting an informal markup via email communications between Subcommittee members. It anticipates having agreement "on approval" by the end of this week, since the full Senate Appropriations Committee is scheduled to mark up the LHHS spending bill next Wednesday, September 15. The Senate Appropriations Committee is moving on markups for several spending bills, with those for the Interior, Agriculture, and Transportation/Treasury scheduled for Tuesday, September 14, and Foreign Operations, Commerce/Justice/State and LHHS scheduled for Wednesday, September 15.