Senators Seek Additional Funds for NIH and NCI
At a July 16 hearing to consider the NIH appropriation for fiscal year 2009 - held by the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies - the panel Chairman Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Ranking Minority Member Arlen Specter (R-PA) announced plans to introduce supplemental spending bills to add $5.2 billion to the NIH budget, which is currently about $29 billion.
Their aim is to restore the purchasing power that NIH and its Institutes have lost during the past 5 years of flat or lower-than-inflation budget increases approved by Congress. The proposed increase will include an additional $1.2 billion for NCI, in line with the Institute's recommendations in its annual bypass budget request.
"It's just a scandalous situation to have seen NIH cut in recent years," said Senator Specter, who had just finished treatment for a recurrence of Hodgkin lymphoma. Despite the current constraints on federal domestic spending, "We have to do something about it," he said.
Chairman Harkin noted that the President recently signed an earlier supplemental appropriations bill which included an additional $150 million for NIH ($25.5 million for NCI) in the current fiscal year.
NIH Director Dr. Elias Zerhouni, NCI Director Dr. John Niederhuber, and several other NIH institute directors testified at the hearing. Senator Specter asked about NCI's response to a previous request by the subcommittee for a best estimate of the cost for a "major frontal assault" towards curing cancer, to which Dr. Niederhuber replied, "We've felt that if we could add $2 billion a year [to the NCI budget], each year, for the next 5 years, that would go a long way toward helping us build capacity within our country in terms of attracting young people, and attracting disciplines that haven't previously worked on cancer."