President Donald Trump's push for a reduction in the National Institutes of Health (NIH) budget came to nothing last night, after Congress agreed instead to increase it by $2 billion for the second year in a row.
The decision is a slap in the face to the President, who had tabled a proposal to cut the funds allocated to the NIH by $5.8 billion in 2018, coming on top of a $1.2 billion reduction in the current fiscal year. It seems the Trump administration's assertions that it could slash the budget but still fund as much research by eliminating unnecessary overheads held little weight with lawmakers.
The proposed cuts had been greeted with consternation by medical research groups, as the NIH is the leading source of federal funding with around $32 billion at its disposal last year.
An editorial published in the New England Journal of Medicine at the end of March said the move would "deplete medicine and science of the best and brightest minds and lead to a global destabilization with far-reaching impact," adding that there is "a clear consensus among economists that public-sector funding for scientific research produces high returns."
The NIH allocation is part of a broader "omnibus" spending package—thrashed out between Republican and Democrat leaders and the Trump administration—aimed at keeping the government financed through the end of September.
It came after stopgap funding was agreed upon last Friday to give time for a deal to be hammered through by negotiators from the House and Senate appropriations committees through the weekend, and after the White House dropped a push to halt Obamacare payments.
Safeguarding and extending the NIH budget to more than $34 billion suggests lawmakers in both parties see a clear benefit for making sure the U.S. medical research engine is supported, with the heads of the Senate and house healthcare appropriation committee—Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., both backing the NIH allocation.
"The investments we make in NIH research will not only save lives, they’ll lead to new frontiers in drug and device development that are critical for reducing health care costs, growing our economy, and maintaining America’s competitive edge in innovation," said Blunt.
The House and Senate are expected to vote on the new budget package by Thursday, and if it is passed will set up another funding showdown in the fall when the issue of NIH funding is expected to once again feature prominently.
Other elements of the omnibus package include nearly $20 billion in extra funding for defense programs—considerably less than the amount sought by the White House—and $1.5 billion more for border security, although that money is not to be used to fund Trump's controversial border wall, reported CBS.
The latest increase to the NIH budget comes after an extra $2 billion was awarded to the NIH last year thanks to the enactment of the 21st Century Cures Act last year, which earmarked an extra $4.8 billion for the organization over following decade. That introduced the first major increase in funding for the NIH in more than a decade.
Among the measures included in the omnibus bill are $5.7 billion for the National Cancer Institute, $1.39 billion for Alzheimer's disease research, $463 million to push the search for new antibiotics for resistant infections, and $320 million for the Precision Medicine Initiative.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a statement that the deal "ensures taxpayer dollars aren't used to fund an ineffective border wall, excludes poison-pill riders, and increases investments in programs that the middle class relies on, like medical research, education, and infrastructure."