Legislative Updates

DHHS Secretary Testifies Before House LHHS Appropriations Subcommittee Regarding President’s FY2022 Budget Request

On April 15, Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra testified before the House Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (LHHS) Appropriations Subcommittee regarding President Biden’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2022 budget request, the focus of which is health equity that permeates all aspects of spending and which prioritizes mental health and maternal mortality and morbidity.

In her opening statement, full Appropriations Committee and LHHS Subcommittee Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) stated that this is “a time to be ambitious and to begin to repair the damage of the past four years,” noting specifically that the proposed budget was a “step in the right direction” which addresses “part of the nation’s public health system, which collapsed during the COVID-19 pandemic.”  In his opening statement, Ranking Member Tom Cole (R-OK) stated that, although he was disappointed in much of proposed budget’s spending, he praised proposed funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) at $51 billion (a $9 billion increase) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) at $8.7 billion (a $1.6 billion increase). “Past Congressional investment in the NIH and CDC was wise, as we were better positioned to face the COVID-19 pandemic, and further investment in this ‘biodefense’ is just as critical as the nation’s investment in military defense.”

Secretary Becerra described the Administration’s proposal to create the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Health (ARPA-H) within the NIH—funded with $6.5 billion of the proposed $9 billion NIH increase—to drive transformational innovation in health research and speed application and implementation of health breakthroughs. Chairwoman DeLauro noted her interest in learning more about ARPA-H, which will have an initial focus on cancer and other diseases such as diabetes and Alzheimer’s, and plans to hold a dedicated hearing on it in the May timeframe with NIH Director Francis Collins, MD, PhD.  Several Subcommittee Members also expressed interest in ARPA-H and how it would dovetail with the current activities of NIH’s National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS). Cong. Andy Harris (R-MD) expressed his concern that the ARPA-H proposal could move the NIH farther from basic research to which Secretary Becerra responded, “We’re trying to move beyond just the basic research to be able to have a transformational result. What we think we can do is help make things click a lot faster by putting some additional money into that research and development that lets us get something from an idea to actually a practice.”

Members raised several policy issues during the hearing. Chairwoman DeLauro and several other Democratic colleagues stressed the importance of removing the Hyde Amendment, which bans the use of federal funding for abortions, while Ranking Member Cole urged that it remain since it strikes a “time-tested balance.” He and several of his Republican colleagues also noted the importance of maintaining the Trump Administration restrictions on the use of human fetal tissue in research. [On April 16, the NIH issued an update to its policy that maintained the ban on the use of human fetal tissue in intramural research but eliminated the need for extramural research applications for NIH grants and contracts proposing to use human fetal tissue from elective abortions to be reviewed by an Ethics Advisory Board.]

Members from both sides of the aisle also raised the situation at the Southern border and DHHS’s responsibility for the care of unaccompanied minors. Secretary Becerra stressed that, although resources are limited, DHHS will continue to invest in both emergency facilities and state-licensed facilities across the US.