Senator Calls for Activism on Federal Research Funding
Senate Appropriations Labor-HHS-Education Subcommittee Chair Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) at a hearing on Friday suggested that advocates for medical research become more politically active in requesting additional federal funding, the Baltimore Sun reports (Rockoff, Baltimore Sun, 5/20).
The hearing included testimony from representatives of nearly two dozen disease advocacy groups. Many of them testified that "promising young researchers ... are now turning away" from disease research because funding levels are uncertain, CQ HealthBeat reports (Reichard, CQ HealthBeat, 5/19).
The NIH budget nearly doubled from 1999 to 2003, but since 2003 budget cuts and inflation have reduced the agency's budget by nearly 11%. NIH funding for the current fiscal year -- $28 billion -- represents a $66 million cut from FY 2005.
President Bush has proposed that funding remain the same next year. The Senate has approved $2 billion in additional NIH funding, and the House has approved an unspecified increase (Baltimore Sun, 5/20). The Senate also has approved an unspecified increase for CDC (Nesmith, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 5/20).
Speaking at the hearing, Specter said, "We're going to do more -- and we're going to ask you to do more." Specter said the advocates should stage a million-person march in Washington, D.C., with "enough people to be heard in the living quarters of the White House."
Specter said that groups should hold protests against 27 Republican senators who voted against increasing NIH funding. "You ought to march on them in their cities," he said, adding, "This is a battle that has to be waged by the 110 million Americans that are suffering from these illnesses in the United States" (CQ HealthBeat, 5/19).
NIH Director Elias Zerhouni said, "The real tension right now is how do you sustain a vibrant research enterprise across the board." He added that "if you keep investing below (inflation) and lose purchasing power, the most important impact on research is loss of scientists" (CQ HealthBeat, 5/19).
Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said, "We did not work hard to double funding of the NIH [from 1999 to 2003] to have it plateau off" (Baltimore Sun, 5/20).
Richard Knapp, chair of the Ad Hoc Group for Medical Research Funding, said "flat funding" was a misleading term because under Bush's budget "almost all NIH institutes and centers would be reduced below the fiscal year 2006 levels." Knapp said Bush's proposal would support 37,671 research project grants in FY 2007, a decline of 1,570 from FY 2004. Knapp added, "At a time of unparalleled scientific opportunities and unprecedented health challenges, NIH should be positioned to support more research, not less."
Moses Chao, a professor of neuroscience at New York University School of Medicine speaking on behalf of the Christopher Reeve Foundation, said flat funding levels have "a huge negative impact upon the recruitment of the next generation of young researchers."
Stephen Emerson, a cancer researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, said Bush's proposed 1% cut to National Cancer Institute funding sends a message to "promising young biomedical professionals [that] a career focused on tackling cancer ... is not worth pursuing" (CQ HealthBeat, 5/19).