While Republicans are pushing budget cuts, the president believes that investment is needed.

As Congressional Republicans promise to rein in federal spending for the fiscal year that starts October 1, President Obama is seeking expanded budgets for the NIH and four other key agencies involved in biotechnology. All but one of agencies would see double-digit increases under the president’s plan, which is expected to undergo substantial revisions over the next several months.

NIH spending would see the smallest increase of about 2.4%, or $745 million, from the last budget approved for the agency. In FY 2010, NIH received $31.24 billion, while the 2012 proposals calls for almost $31.98 billion. Congress has yet to approve a budget for the current fiscal year, which ends September 30.

“The requested funding will enhance NIH’s ability to support research that prolongs life, reduces disability, and strengthens the economy,” said NIH director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D.

Last week House Appropriations Committee chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) proposed eliminating $1 billion from NIH in a $74 billion package of cuts envisioned for the seven months between March 4—when a continuing resolution to keep spending at FY 2010 levels runs out—and the end of FY 2011.

Two days later a bill from the House Appropriations Committee furthered the proposed cut, going 5%, or $1.63 billion, below NIH’s 2010 budget. The proposal revised an earlier flat NIH budget that was advanced by the panel before several House Republicans called for a greater reduction in spending. It also amends a plan approved in December by the lame-duck Democratic-controlled House that called for a 3.2% increase in NIH funding.

Dr. Collins says the additional funds proposed by President Obama would be used in part to fund the new National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences. It is intended to accelerate translation of basic-research discoveries into new drugs and devices. The proposal did not spell out exactly how much would be spent for the translational center, expected to cost at least $100 million. Dr. Collins said that figure would be forthcoming “shortly” once details are decided for the center, which NIH hopes to open on October 1. The translational center is expected to use at least part of the $485 million now spent for the National Center for Research Resources, which would be abolished.

NIH is promising to emphasize three scientific areas deemed instrumental in leading to faster scientific advances across human health and disease. These include technologies designed to accelerate drug discovery, studies designed to assess the effectiveness of new therapies and healthcare interventions, and programs intended to support and develop young scientists.

Dr. Collins reports that the NIH budget includes $1.298 billion in “Office of the Director” funds, an increase of 10.3% percent, or $122 million. Of that total, $100 million will fund the Cures Action Network, authorized by President Obama’s healthcare measure of last year to advance high-need cures, whose development NIH concludes is unlikely to occur through the commercial market.

The CDC would see an 11.6%, or roughly $370.9 million, funding increase in FY 2012 to about $11.255 billion. But that figure includes a declining share of discretionary spending, which would dip to $5.894 billion from $6.474 billion in FY 2010; the remainder consists of mandated programs.

The biggest spending increase, $560.7 million, would fund prevention and public health programs designed to improve health and help rein in healthcare costs. The second-largest spending increase at $270.36 million is additional funding for the Vaccines for Children Program.

CDC would cut costs in part by eliminating its Preventive Health and Health Services Block Grant program, at a savings of $100.26 million. It also anticipates $100 million in reduced administrative costs from replacing contract workers with employees.

Also growing by double digits in Obama’s budget plan:

• The National Science Foundation, which would rise to $7.77 billion, about 13% above FY 2010 spending, which was approximately $6.9 billion;

• FDA’s budget, which would jump by one-third, or $1.07 billion, from $3.28 billion in FY 2010 to $4.36 billion in FY 2012. Of that total, $2.7 billion would come from Congress and the rest, from user fees. The overall increase reflects the agency’s responsibility for the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, enacted late last year, and programs set to expand.

• The Office of Science, part of the U.S. Department of Energy, would see its funding grow 10.7% to about $5.4 billion.

Rogers’ plan, on the other hand, would cut $755 million from CDC, $220 million from the FDA, $139 million from NSF, and $1.1 billion from the Office of Science.

“We will respond to the millions of Americans who have called on this Congress to rein in spending to help our economy grow and our businesses create jobs,” Rogers comments. “We have taken a wire brush to the discretionary budget and scoured every program to find real savings that are responsible and justifiable to the American people.”

Not so, counters HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius: “The budget we’re releasing makes tough choices and smart, targeted investments today, so that we can have a stronger, healthier, more competitive America tomorrow.”

HHS would see an overall 1.9% budget decrease to $891.6 billion from $909.7 billion in FY 2010 despite continuing growth in Medicaid and Medicare. HHS accounts for about one third of President Obama’s $3.3 trillion budget for FY 2012, down 2.5% from the never-approved FY 2011 spending plan.

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