Garnering Financial Support
A key barrier to NCATS and the rest of NIH’s priorities, Dr. Hudson acknowledged, is continuing uncertainty over federal budgets this fiscal year and next. During FY 2009 and ’10, NIH benefited from the $814 billion American Recovery & Reinvestment Act. It was given $10.4 billion over two years as part of the stimulus measure.
In the era of trillion-dollar federal budget deficits—partly caused by the stimulus bill—adding to NIH funding will be easier said than done. Furthermore, given that the House of Representatives is now controlled by Republicans, many elected on pledges to tame Washington’s fiscal appetite once and for all, the institute may have to fight to get a bigger budget.
Back in January President Obama proposed an increase of roughly 2.4%, or $745 million, in NIH’s budget for FY ’12 to $31.987 billion from the $31.242 billion budget last approved for the agency in 2010. Obama’s increase was smaller than that of lame-duck House Democratic leaders, who a month earlier approved an FY ’11 spending plan with a 3.2% hike in NIH funding.
The House reversed that last month by approving HR1, a bill that sliced $1.6 billion from NIH for the rest of the 2011 fiscal year. The measure reduced the agency’s budget to $29.6 billion, the same as in FY 2008. The Democratic-controlled Senate voted down HR1 56–44, entirely along party lines. But the Senate also turned down 58–42 a budget amendment by Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-HI) that would have kept NIH funding flat.
“There’s not much appetite for increasing funds in FY 2011,” Jon Retzlaff, managing director of science policy and government affairs for the American Association for Cancer Research, told GEN. “What we’re trying to head off is any cut and to try to convince policy makers that for the health of our country, for the health of our economy, we should at least stay at level funding.” Even flat funding would effectively cut NIH’s spending power given annual inflation, he noted.
Congress has yet to approve any agency budgets for what remains of FY ’11 but has approved six continuing resolutions maintaining spending at FY ’10 levels. The last continuation expires April 8. “It remains to be seen whether they can come to an agreement this week,” Jennifer Zeitzer, director of legislative relations for the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB), told GEN.
FASEB has disagreed with NIH on details of NCATS. The federation argues that NCRR and its programs not being shifted to the translational center should both be spared from cuts. FASEB also suggests folding NCRR’s Division of Comparative Medicine, which oversees management of animal models, into NCATS since it aligns with the RAID program.