Lawmakers are making clear that they have no intention of carrying out President Trump’s proposal to decrease funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the nation’s medical research agency.
In a hearing Wednesday, Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) — the chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee overseeing the NIH’s budget — said he was “disappointed” to see the White House’s recommendation to cut NIH funding by about $5.8 billion in its budget proposal for fiscal 2018.
“I’m concerned that the reductions in the request would stall progress that our recent investments were intended to achieve and potentially discouraging promising scientists from entering or remaining in biomedical research,” Cole said.
NIH Director Francis Collins said that at a White House meeting last week, industry leaders made clear that cuts on the level the Trump is proposing could hurt the country's standing in medical research.
“The conclusion of that group was we have an amazing engine for discovery … but you don’t want to put some sand in the gears or find that there’s some part of the machine that’s run out of its particular maintenance,” Collins said, “and they were quite clear that anything that would reduce the inputs from the industry or academia or from NIH would put this country at risk."
“China has read our playbook. They want to become us, and I don’t blame them. But we should be sure that we’re still us,” he said.
In a spending bill passed in December 2015, the NIH received a $2 billion boost, the biggest increase the medical research agency had seen in about a dozen years. The Trump administration proposed a $1.2 billion decrease for the NIH for the rest of the current fiscal year, but Congress didn’t listen. Instead, it added another $2 billion boost to NIH’s budget.
Collins said stable and predictable funding is important to the NIH’s research. The agency currently has a plethora of ongoing projects, such as the Cancer Moonshot and building a 1 million person research cohort as a part of the Precision Medicine Initiative.
“A rollercoaster model is really destructive both for our trying to plan projects and for people staying in the field who wonder, 'Is there a career path for me?' ” Collins said at the hearing.
For the past two years, Congress has essentially provided NIH with a boost to cover inflation and then an additional 5 percent, Collins said, which has been a “wonderful recovery from what was a long, difficult time since 2003.”
“For us to be able to stay on that kind of trajectory would be enormously beneficial for all of medical research,” Collins said.
Though the White House proposed massive cuts to the NIH, Congress ultimately controls its purse strings. And NIH funding is a rare area of bipartisan agreement in a divided Congress.
“Everyone on this committee recognizes the importance of restoring purchasing power to the NIH,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), the ranking member of the House Appropriations health subcommittee, thanking Cole and committee members for their bipartisan work to fund the NIH.