House Energy and Commerce Committee Reports out NIH Reform Bill; Chairman Barton Plans House Floor Action Prior to Election Recess

House Energy and Commerce Committee Reports Out NIH Reform Bill;
Chairman Barton Plans House Floor Action Prior to Election Recess

Legislative Update
September 21, 2006

On Wednesday, September 20, after a six-hour markup session, the House Energy and Commerce Committee passed by a 42-1 bipartisan vote the National Institute of Health (NIH) Reform Act of 2006. During the week of September 25, Committee Chairman Joe Barton (R-TX) plans to introduce the bill on the House floor “under suspension” – meaning that it bypasses the Rules Committee (no amendments), each side has twenty minutes to debate and there must be a two-thirds majority vote by those present.

The bill reauthorizes the NIH for three years (marking the first reauthorization since 1993) and authorizes funding increases of five percent for each of the fiscal years 2007-2009. In alignment with Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommendations, the bill:

  • creates, funds and specifies the management of a “common fund” for trans-Institute NIH research;
  • creates a Scientific Management Review Board to conduct periodic evaluations of NIH management and structure; and
  • increases NIH transparency through more comprehensive reports to Congress

Witnesses Testifying before the House Energy and Commerce Committee

The markup session was preceded by a Tuesday, September 19, hearing on the legislation, featuring testimony from NIH Director Dr. Elias Zerhouni and representatives of major medical research advocacy organizations and academic institutions that have endorsed the legislation, including the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB), the American Heart Association and Johns Hopkins University. After the hearing, NAEVR informed Dr. Zerhouni that it had held a Congressional briefing earlier that day about the collaborative research within the National Eye Institute’s (NEI) Diabetic Retinopathy Clinical Research Network, which E&C Committee Member Gene Green (D-TX) attended.

At the hearing and markup sessions, Democratic members were generally supportive, although they expressed concern about the condensed process that bypassed Health Subcommittee markup. Although numerous amendments to the Committee Print were offered, primarily by Democrats, the only one accepted was a Manager’s Amendment, which made numerous technical changes and clarifications to the original text released the previous week. All other amendments offered were either withdrawn by their sponsors at the request of Chairman Barton – who made clear his intention of reporting a ‘clean bill’ – or defeated along party line votes.

Cong. Markey (D-MA) offered two amendments related to NIH funding levels. The first would have increased the five percent per year authorized level of funding to five percent over the Biomedical Research and Development Price Index (BRDPI) – about 10 percent total – and the second would have ensured baseline funding for Institutes and Centers through a BRDPI increase before funding the “common fund” for trans-Institute research. Chairman Barton made a very persuasive case that the authorized five percent increases for NIH represented “real, doable dollars” versus “imaginary dollars” of potentially higher authorizations. Both amendments were defeated by party line votes, and Cong. Markey was the only Democrat to oppose final passage of the bill.

While the Appropriations Committee has the final say over the exact amount of NIH funding, Chairman Barton has publicly committed himself to working with Congress to achieve the funding levels authorized in the bill.

The legislation was developed after much consultation with the medical research community, building upon drafts released in 2005. The current bill abandons the budget “cluster” concept opposed by NAEVR and aligns with recommendations from the 2003 IOM report Enhancing the Vitality of the National Institutes of Health.