NIH Funding Increase Prompts Lawmakers To Use ‘Power Politics’ To Secure Projects for Their Home States
As the National Institutes of Health's budget continues to increase, lawmakers are trying to use "power politics" to "lock up" new research facilities that "will assure a steady flow of money to their home states," the Wall Street Journal reports (Rogers, Wall Street Journal, 1/31). HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson last week announced that President Bush's proposed fiscal year 2003 budget will contain a record $3.7 billion increase in funding for the NIH. If approved by Congress, Bush's funding request of $27.3 billion -- up from the NIH's current budget of $23.6 billion -- would complete a five-year program to double the agency's budget that began in 1998 (California Healthline, 1/28).
According to the Journal, one example of "political-scientific" maneuvering is the recent creation of the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, the NIH's 19th institute. Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.), who represents a "prominent Mississippi radiologist supportive of the legislation," was "pivotal" to the institute's passage in the "final hours" of the last Congress, despite opposition within the NIH. The Journal reports that Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) -- who, like Lott, is a graduate of the University of Mississippi -- has recently been "pressing" the NIH to put "a big segment" of the institute at that university's medical school. The agency says it has not yet decided on the request, but Cochran has said he will "pursue the issue" during this summer's appropriations process and has an "important ally" in fellow Mississippi Republican Rep. Roger Wicker, who sits on the House panel that oversees the NIH budget, according to the Journal. Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.) said, "The bigger the money gets at the NIH, the more temptation there is to politicize this stuff." The NIH, which falls under HHS, has increased in size nearly four-fold since 1960. But Harold Varmus, former NIH director, says the agency's increased size adds to "administrative costs" and "reduces the NIH's flexibility to respond to scientific challenges" (Wall Street Journal, 1/31).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.