CQ TODAY ONLINE NEWS
Feb. 8, 2011
Cancer Research Advocates Prepare for Cuts After Years of Funding Increases
By Kerry Young, CQ Staff
Advocates for cancer research are bracing themselves for a lean year on the government funding front, as conservative lawmakers push deep spending cuts and research groups search for new allies.
House Republican appropriators are looking to slice about $6 billion out of the Labor-HHS spending bill this year, which carries money for research through the National Institutes of Health and the National Cancer Institute.
It remains unclear exactly where lawmakers will find those reductions in the huge bill, which would include more than $163 billion in spending under the GOP plan. But research advocates will have to work fast to ensure their programs are kept off the chopping block in the House.
The current stopgap funding law (PL 111-322) expires March 4, and Republicans are expected to pass their spending cuts before then.
Getting the Senate to agree with the reductions is another matter. Cancer research advocate Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, the chairman of the Senate Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee, is expected to fiercely defend the funding.
Cutting money for NIH and NCI would “not just set advancements back three years, but can jeopardize this field as a whole,” Harkin said.
Such a move would reduce the number of grants that could be funneled out to researchers in the field, which could have long-lasting consequences, the senator said.
“There is no question that we face tough budgeting decisions, but these decisions shouldn’t force a wholesale retreat in our war against cancer,” Harkin added.
House Republican appropriators — who are under the gun to find deep savings this year — suggest it might be hard to preserve all the research money after a series of budget increases under Democratic rule.
“Chairman Obey was substantially increasing the budgets, in addition to the stimulus money,” said Montana Republican Denny Rehberg, chairman of the House Labor-Health and Human Services-Education Subcommittee. “That makes the decisions much more difficult.”
Former House Appropriations Chairman David R. Obey, a Wisconsin Democrat, along with former Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and Harkin, worked to more than quadruple the NIH’s budget to $30 billion in the current year from $7 billion in fiscal 1990.
Although cancer research might be politically difficult to cut, Congress’ recent largesse toward the National Cancer Institute might make it a target.
Its budget jumped to $5.1 billion in fiscal 2010 from $4.81 billion in fiscal 2008. And NCI also received $1.26 billion under the stimulus law (PL 111-5), along with $4.9 billion in regular appropriations in fiscal 2009.
Pushing to make cuts now is terrible timing, said Jon Retzlaff, managing director of science policy and government affairs for the nonprofit American Association for Cancer Research.
While the science behind cancer research and prevention is advancing, it looks like this year could be one of the worst in recent money to ask for government money.
“It’s really scary,” Retzlaff said.
With a large crop of fiscally-conservative freshmen lawmakers in the House — many of them committed to downsizing the government — advocates for cancer research need to explain the vital role played by government money, Retzlaff said.
Many lawmakers may not understand how money provided by NCI aids in every step of the fight against the disease, starting with funding the basic laboratory science that explores why human cells go bad and become cancerous, Retzlaff added.
Pharmaceutical companies simply cannot match the kind of commitment that the NCI can make to basic science. “If the government doesn’t fund this, no else will,” Retzlaff said. “Investors won’t tolerate the long-term process.”
While President Obama had sought to freeze wide swaths of domestic spending in his fiscal 2011 budget request, he made an exception for the National Cancer Institute, seeking about a 3 percent increase to $5.26 billion for the year.
NIH said that money would help pay for more research into the causes of cancer, including a catalogue of mutations associated with the 20 most common forms of the disease.
It also would cover the cost of testing 30 cancer-treatment drugs, according to NIH.
Source: CQ Today Online News
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