The numbers are in, folks, and they’re not pretty. On July 18, the U.S. House of Representatives, appropriations subcommittee on labor, health and human services and education (LHHS) voted on its funding bill for fiscal 2013. This bill is particularly important for biomedical researchers because the LHHS subcommittee determines the funding levels for the National Institutes of Health.
ASBMB and many other health research groups had been advocating for $32 billion for NIH and had received a reasonably positive reception on this proposal. When the Senate gave NIH $30.7 billion for FY13 (an increase of only 0.3 percent over the FY12 level), all eyes turned to the House with the hope that its NIH appropriation would be closer to $32 billion and the eventual compromise would be somewhere in the middle. Those hopes were significantly diminished however when the NIH received flat funding from the House, holding its budget steady at $30.6 billion.
Unfortunately, the House LHHS bill seems to be more about politics than policy. I suppose we could all be happy that NIH wasn’t slashed and gutted like so many other programs in the LHHS bill, but the fact remains that flat funding for NIH actually amounts to a 3 percent cut after accounting for inflation. With ever-mounting competition and success rates at an all time low, even a small cut to the NIH budget will have significant ramifications for NIH-funded researchers.
In addition to flat funding, the House bill includes several policy riders that would set unprecedented requirements on the type and amount of research NIH can fund. Never before has Congress proposed this level of micromanagement of the NIH’s research portfolio. The bill stipulates that the NIH:
- must maintain an allocation of 90% to extramural activities, 10% for intramural activities and at least 55% of the total must go toward basic science activities
- must fund precisely 16,670 training awards and fellowships for undergraduates, doctoral students and postdoctoral researchers
- is prohibited from funding any economic research programs, projects or activities
- must certify to the HHS secretary that every grant it funds is “of scientific value” and “will have a measurable impact on public health.”
If all that isn’t frustrating enough, let me give you one more thing to think about. Last summer the Budget Control Act set the cap on discretionary spending for FY13 at $1.05 trillion. The Senate has set its appropriations bills according to the BCA cap, while the House set its budget almost $20 billion below the BCA level. That means that by law the House LHHS subcommittee had an additional $7.7 billion to work with and still chose not to invest in biomedical research. An investment that could not only lead to new life-saving treatments but also create thousands of highly skilled jobs in the process.
Because the final appropriations for FY13 probably won’t be completed until after the November election, now is a critical time to meet with your members of Congress and urge them to support an increase for NIH funding in FY13 and in the future. Email Ben Corb to set up a meeting with your representatives and check out the ASBMB advocacy training webinars here. Take a stand to support basic research funding!