In defiance of Trump’s budget, Senate poised to boost NIH funding—again

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If this feels like déjà-vu, that’s because the Senate ignored recommendations in the White House budget for fiscal 2018, approving a $2 billion increase for the NIH. (Jorge Guillen)

Ignoring President Donald Trump’s proposed budget, the Senate is setting up to approve a $2 billion boost in funding for the National Institutes of Health. The increase is part of the Senate’s “minibus” for fiscal 2019 that deals with more than $850 billion in funding and that could be approved as early as this week. 

The package—combining the Senate’s Defense bill and its Labor, Education and Health and Human Services bill—would increase NIH funding by 5.4% to $39.1 billion for fiscal year 2019, which starts on Oct. 1. The chamber began debating the “minibus” on Thursday, with amendment votes starting Monday. 

The White House conveyed (PDF) its disappointment Wednesday in a seven-page statement of administration policy. The bill did not consolidate several agencies, including the CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), into the NIH as the administration proposed in its budget. The administration also called the bill out for exceeding its recommended funding for the NIH, NIOSH and AHRQ by $4.7 billion. 

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“The Administration strongly supports actions that reduce overlap in Government programs and increase efficiency, and looks forward to working with the Congress to achieve these goals,” the statement of administration policy read. 

If this feels like déjà-vu, that’s because the Senate ignored recommendations in the White House budget for fiscal 2018, approving a $2 billion increase for the NIH for the second year running. It did so after President Trump proposed a $5.8 billion cut to the NIH budget in his first budget. The proposed cuts prompted considerable consternation, with the New England Journal of Medicine publishing an editorial saying they would "deplete medicine and science of the best and brightest minds and lead to a global destabilization with far-reaching impact.” 

"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 Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., who backed the NIH budget increase for fiscal 2018.

Fiscal 2018’s increase followed a separate $2 billion boost awarded to the NIH in 2016, thanks to  the enactment of the 21st Century Cures Act, which earmarked an extra $4.8 billion for the agency over the following decade. That legislation introduced the first increase in NIH funding in more than a decade. 

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