Senate approves $2B boost for NIH in $850B+ spending bill

The $2 billion increase expands on a similar boost built into the fiscal 2018 omnibus, approved by the Senate after President Trump proposed a $5.8 billion cut to the NIH budget. (skeeze / Pixabay)

For the fourth year in a row, the Senate has approved a significant increase in funding for the National Institutes of Health. The $2 billion boost raises the agency’s funding about 5% to $39.1 billion for fiscal year 2019 and comes as part of an $854 billion package combining spending bills for the Departments of Defense, Health and Human Services, Education and Labor. 

The Senate ignored several recommendations put forth by President Donald Trump in his proposed budget for fiscal 2019, which begins on Oct. 1. Debate on the package started last Thursday and the White House released (PDF) a statement of administration on Wednesday outlining its disappointment. The administration complained that several agencies had not been consolidated under the NIH and that the bill exceeded its recommended funding for a trio of agencies including the NIH by $3.7 billion. 

The Senate blocked or rejected amendments from both parties, including one from Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va, that would have allowed the Senate to intervene in a Texas lawsuit that could end protections for people with pre-existing conditions. The chamber ultimately voted to pass the measure 85-7, sending it to the House. 

The vote “shows what the Senate can do working together. We all know it’s not easy, but it works,” said Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. 

“For the fourth straight year, the Senate has provided record funding for biomedical research at the National Institutes of Health—$2 billion additional dollars in the first year, $2 billion the second year, $3 billion the third year, and $2 billion this year, which is a 30 percent increase over the last four years," said Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., in a statement. "As a result of investing in our biomedical research, we will have more access to life-changing treatments and cures, and see more medical miracles. 

“I continue to urge President Trump to make science and research part of his ‘America First’ agenda. The president has already signed into law two consecutive bills that provide record funding for science, technology, energy and biomedical research, and this legislation will build on that,” Alexander said. 

The $2 billion increase expands on a similar boost built into the budget for fiscal 2018. The Senate approved that increase last year after President Trump proposed a $5.8 billion cut to NIH funding in his first budget. And that hike came after 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 put an end to more than a decade of stagnant funding for medical research.