Flat funding likely to be best case scenario for NIH
The fiscal year 2013 appropriations process is moving ahead on schedule, but final decisions that could affect health research spending will almost certainly be delayed until after the November elections.
In the House and Senate, appropriations subcommittees have been provided with spending allocations for FY2013, which will allow appropriators to begin crafting the 12 individual funding bills, such as the Labor, Health and Human Services and Related Agencies (Labor HHS) bill, which contains funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
At the present time, the two chambers are deeply at odds over the overall spending levels, which will likely become a major point of contention in the coming months. The Republican-led House is working under a total discretionary spending cap of $1.028 trillion, established in the recent party-line approved budget resolution sponsored by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.). Senate appropriators meanwhile have reached a bipartisan agreement—gaining support from GOP leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and other key Republicans—to work with the $1.047 trillion cap set in last August’s debt limit law. This level is slightly higher than the current fiscal year’s $1.043 trillion level and $19 billion more than the House ceiling.
More specifically, the Senate plan provides appropriators with $157.7 billion to spend on programs funded in the Labor HHS bill. This allocation is slightly higher than the FY2012 allocation, suggesting that Senate lawmakers may be able to at least protect current research funding levels for many programs, and possibly provide small increases for a select few.
In contrast, however, the House is allocating $150 billion for FY2013, which is more than a 4 percent cut below FY2012 spending levels, and more than $7.7 billion, or 5.15 percent, below the level that the Senate is able to distribute.
The White House recently joined the debate, signaling that the president will not sign any spending bills that fall below the Senate’s level. Earlier in the month, the president described the House budget as one that “breaks our bipartisan agreement and proposes massive new cuts in annual domestic spending – exactly the area where we've already cut the most. The year after next, there would be 1,600 fewer medical grants, research grants for things like Alzheimer's and cancer and AIDS. There would be 4,000 fewer scientific research grants, eliminating support for 48,000 researchers, students and teachers.”
Exacerbating immediate budgetary anxieties is the looming sequestration that is scheduled to take effect in January of next year. Enacted in the wake of last fall's supercommittee’s inability to identify $1.2 trillion in budgetary savings, this process would subject domestic programs such as NIH, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), among other agencies, to automatic across-the-board cuts of 7 to 10 percent.
Although some anticipate that Congress will find a way to circumvent or amend the cuts, the biomedical research community is bracing for the potential impact. According to an analysis released this month by the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB), NIH would suffer an approximate $2.8 billion budget cut, which could translate to a reduction of 11.1 percent in funding for extramural awards. The FASEB analysis also provided a state-by-state breakdown of the impact of this scenario.
One way you can make a difference now is to contact your representative and senators today and encourage them to support a strong investment in NIH in the FY2013 budget.
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