NIH funding a sticking point on House bill

NIH funding a sticking point on House bill
© NIH

A funding increase for the National Institutes of Health is one of the sticking points for a bipartisan group of House leaders trying to reach consensus on a landmark medical innovation bill.

Leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee are working to narrow down a 400-page draft document into a final version of what has been dubbed the 21st Century Cures initiative. The legislative text was slated to be released as early as last week, though lawmakers Tuesday are still ironing out details.

“At the end of the day, they’re still trying to figure out if there will be an increase in funding for NIH,” Marc Boutin, CEO of the nonprofit National Health Council, said Tuesday.

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“My sense is that there’s agreement that NIH needs additional funds. The question that needs to be addressed is how much and where does that money come from,” added Boutin, who has testified before the committee on 21st Century Cures.

Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) told a local news station earlier this week he believes there will be a "pretty significant increase” to the NIH’s research budget.

The committee’s ranking member, Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), who did not endorse the initial draft of the bill, said in the same interview she believed the legislation would ultimately gain the president's signature.

“We still have some issues we need to resolve, but we’re optimistic that we’ll be able to do that,” DeGette said Sunday. "The stakes are too high."

Funding for the NIH has been a divisive issue this spring for Republicans in both chambers who are working to craft a budget resolution.

The NIH’s budget last year totaled about $29.3 billion, down slightly from the previous year’s $29.8 billion budget. President Obama's budget proposal earlier this year, which NIH officials have praised, would have boosted the center's funding by about $1 billion, ending sequestration cuts.

Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntGOP debates tax cuts vs. tax reform Five tough decisions for the GOP on healthcare Lacking White House plan, Senate focuses on infrastructure MORE (R-Mo.), chairman of Senate Appropriations’ health subcommittee, said last week he is "pleased” that the government requested a $1 billion increase for NIH. His comments came the same day that former Speaker Newt Gingrich penned a sharply worded op-ed in The New York Times calling on House leadership to increase funding for the agency.

Upton said he hopes to formally introduce introduce the bill in the remaining days of April or the “very beginning” of May, with the bill advancing to the House floor by June.

“The leadership tells us they’re going to be ready as soon as we are, which probably looks as June,” added Upton, who met with House leaders last week.