House Appropriations Committee Approves FY2017 LHHS Appropriations Bill with $1.25 Billion NIH Increase, $27.6 Million NEI Increase

House Appropriations Committee Approves FY2017 LHHS Appropriations Bill with
$1.25 Billion NIH Increase, $27.6 Million NEI Increase

Legislative Update
July 14, 2016

On July 14, the House Appropriations Committee concluded a day-and-a-half marathon session by approving the Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (LHHS) spending bill by a vote of 31-19 along party lines, which is the twelfth and final appropriation bill for approval. This follows the LHHS Appropriations Subcommittee approving the bill along party lines at its July 7 markup.

The bill provides $161.6 billion in base discretionary spending, which is $569 million below the FY2016 level and $2.8 billion below the President’s budget request. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is funded at a level of $33.3 billion, a $1.25 billion or 3.9 percent increase over FY2016—and compares to a $2 billion increase in the Senate’s bill. The National Eye Institute (NEI) is funded at $735.6 million, a $27.6 million or 3.9 percent increase over its FY2016 Operational Net of $708 million—and compares to a $32.8 million increase in the Senate’s bill.

In the Subcommittee markup, Chairman Tom Cole (R-OK) highlighted numerous priorities in the bill, including the NIH increase that builds upon the $2 billion increase that Congress passed in FY2016. In discussion, he noted that, “I want to be clear that I view the mark we set today as a floor, not a ceiling, for biomedical research funding, and I am hopeful this number can increase as the process moves forward,” and that he would work with his Senate counterpart Chairman Roy Blunt (R-MO) to do the best they could within the budget caps. He also announced that the bill includes $500 million for Opioid Abuse, $390 million in Zika Response funding, and $300 million for an Infectious Diseases Rapid Response Reserve Fund.

Unlike the bipartisan Senate bill, the House bill includes numerous policy riders that the Democratic members of the Subcommittee attempted to strike. Led by Ranking Member Cong. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Democratic members also offered several amendments in both the Subcommittee and Committee markups to restore funding to key programs in the bill. In one amendment during full Appropriations consideration, Cong. DeLauro proposed to increase NIH funding by $750 million—to match the Senate bill by funding the Cancer Moonshot at $550 million and proportionately increasing funding within the Institutes and Centers—funding for which would have been offset by declaring the Opioid Abuse and Infectious Diseases Rapid Response Reserve Fund as emerging funding outside of budget caps. The amendment failed along party lines.

During this portion of the debate, Chairman Cole commented on efforts to increase NIH funding:

“I acknowledge the importance of building upon what we have accomplished [for NIH] last year and even what we have proposed this year. Frankly, I don’t have much doubt over the course of the bill that we will be able to raise the number that’s already in the base bill substantially, working together across the aisle, because our friends in the Senate have the same goal.”

He emphasized, however, that the Committee should work to do so within the budget caps, and rejected the proposal to designate funding as emerging spending. In similar action near the end of the first day of full Committee consideration, he also commented with respect to early-stage investigators:

“The idea of continuing to build on the progress of last year at the NIH [is] something that is absolutely critical to do, and to build in the idea that these are investments that we are going to make on a regular basis. The only problem with … the achieved goal of doubling, that was set back in the 1990s, [is] once we did it, we quit. … Let’s be careful about goals because when we reach them, we stop. And what we probably need to do in this area is have a sustained increase over a long period of time, so that the researchers know it, frankly some of the people coming into the field know it, so they can build a career knowing they’re going to have the opportunities to do what they want to and what they’re trained to do. And that’s what we’re trying to do in this bill, and that’s what we’ll continue trying to do, working with the Senate, because we want this to become a habit that we almost take for granted. Senator Blunt has made the point, and I think he’s exactly right, this year is probably more important than last year to get us back into the routine so that last year isn’t a one-hit wonder. It’s the beginning of a process, and I will work with my friend, who’s been a very valuable partner, as my Ranking Member has been, in trying to achieve this objective. For all the differences we have and all the things we disagree over and air today, there are areas where we are genuine partners. This is one of them, and we will continue to try to do that.”

Regarding other high-profile NIH projects, the bill provides the following:

  • $300 million for the Precision Medicine Initiative, an increase of $100 million;
  • $1.26 billion, an increase of $350 million, for Alzheimer’s disease research;
  • $195 million, an increase of $45 million, for the Brain Research through Advancing
    Innovative Technologies (BRAIN) Initiative to map the human brain; and
  • $333.3 million, an increase of $12.4 million, for the Institutional Development Award;

NAEVR has prepared a chart that compares the FY2017 Senate and House bills with respect to funding for high-profile projects.

NAEVR, which had requested FY2017 NIH funding of $34.5 billion and NEI funding of $770 million, recognized the Committee’s efforts to increase biomedical research funding for the second year.

Since Congress is adjourning for the expanded Summer recess—due to the conventions—it has just a few weeks in September to conclude legislative business prior to the start of FY2017 on October 1. It will likely pass a Continuing Resolution (CR) of some duration prior to its election recess.