The House Republican overseeing the purse strings for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is pushing back on President Trump's proposed funding cuts for the agency.
Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) said he didn’t think the decrease in funding would survive in Congress, saying, “I don’t think it’s a wise choice."
"I certainly understand wanting to plus up defense, but you have to remember part of defending the American people is protecting them from pandemics,” said Cole, the chairman of the House health appropriations subcommittee. “Part of getting hold of the long-term expenses of the federal government is dealing with things like Alzheimer's.”
For the past two years, Congress has added a $2 billion boost for the NIH after about a dozen years without a substantial increase. But Trump has proposed reducing funding for NIH by about $5.8 billion.
For example, the administration has proposed decreasing funding for the National Cancer Institute by $1 billion. The National Institute of Mental Health would see about $300 million less, and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases would be slashed by nearly $840 million.
The president’s budget is an annual exercise. Lawmakers will write their own budget and are unlikely to take up many of the White House's proposals.
Recently, funding for the NIH has been a bipartisan affair. Democratic and Republican lawmakers have praised the agency’s mission of creating major medical breakthroughs, projects of which include the Cancer Moonshot and the BRAIN Initiative.
“First of all, a disease like cancer and Alzheimer's don’t make any distinctions on the basis of party or philosophy,” Cole said. “And second, I think most people — when they really look at the issue and our subcommittee has spent a lot of time — understand that this is actually a way to save a lot of money longer term. It's the right thing to do, obviously.”
He recalled growing up when polio was still rampant and how science was able to eliminate the disease from the U.S.
“You don’t see it anymore because we made the right kind of investments and that not only improved lives, it improves productivity as well.”
At a hearing last week, NIH Director Francis Collins said Congress has recently provided the NIH with a funding spike to cover inflation and then another 5 percent. This 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.
Advocates slammed Trump's proposed cuts to the NIH.
They would “seriously jeopardize the development of new, potentially life-saving cancer diagnostic tools, prevention methods and treatments,” Chris Hansen, president of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, said in a statement.
Research!America urges Congress to continue its bipartisan effort to support the NIH.
“To seize this opportunity in medical and health research and innovation, and address the twin specters of disease and ever-rising health care costs held over every family and the nation as a whole, we must urge our congressional representatives to step up,” Research!America President and CEO Mary Woolley said in a statement.