Spending concerns dominate ASBMB Hill day meetings

In meetings with members of Congress and their staff on April 13 and 14, ASBMB members advocated for an increase in the budget for the National Institutes of Health.  While ASBMB members asked for support of a $37 billion budget for 2011, members of Congress and their staff were concerned about further increasing federal spending.

Those in the nearly 30 Democratic and Republican offices ASBMB members visited made it clear that they understand and support the work of the NIH.

But most indicated the difficult economic times would make it challenging to provide large increase in the NIH budget.  In his 2011 budget, President Obama proposed spending $1.2 trillion more than the government takes in, and there is little interest on the Hill in increasing the deficit beyond the president’s request.

While the president has requested $32.1 billion budget for NIH in 2011, a roughly 3 percent increase over the current year, ASBMB and FASEB representatives calculate an additional $5 billion will be needed to sustain current levels of research.

Many congressional staff said they understood the importance of sustaining current research momentum.  Due to inflation and insufficient budget increases, the NIH budget has lost about 13 percent of its value since 2003.

ASBMB members highlighted how funding in the stimulus package for the NIH had compensated for six years of eroding funding levels.  However, those funding levels will need to be maintained to continue the same levels of research, ASBMB members said.

Staff of some lawmakers said that their offices had signed letters to other members of Congress in support of an NIH budget increase similar to ASBMB’s recommendation.  Others said they would “do what they could” to support the NIH budget.

But senior staff members of appropriations committees – those that actually handle the budget of the NIH and other agencies – were not optimistic about the prospects of a large increase.  Staff members said that it might be difficult to get even the president’s budget approved for the NIH.

ASBMB members’ meetings on the Hill come at an important time.  In coming weeks, Congress will begin to draft initial versions of appropriations bills that will set the budget level for the NIH in 2011.

You can read more about the ASBMB and FASEB’s federal funding recommendations for 2011 here.  Learn more about how you can advocate on behalf of biomedical research by visiting ASBMB’s Congressional Visits Guide.

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