September 2010

Congress Adjourns until Fall with Most Appropriations Bills Unfinished

• The Funding “Cliff”: This term refers to the drop-off of funds available for supporting research at NIH when the additional $10 billion in stimulus money no longer is available. The report notes that the softest possible landing is critical to maintaining the scientific momentum gained over the past two years and to ensuring that young investigators have a bright future in biomedical research. The report also notes that the committee “hopes that this will mark the first of several years of growth for the NIH that, if not spectacular, are at least steady and predictable.” (Again, the term “growth” is a debatable word choice, since the 3.2 percent increase barely keeps up with biomedical inflation.)

• Basic Research: The report includes the following statement: “The Committee believes that basic biomedical research should remain a key component of both the intramural and extramural research portfolio at NIH.”

Want more information about what's happening on the Hill? Check out the ASBMB Policy Blotter. 

• Career Development Awards: The report notes that the committee supports the preservation of K-Awards as a critical training mechanism.

• Clinical and Translational Science Awards Program: The report notes that the committee “strongly supports the CTSA program” and “believes that stronger involvement from all 27 ICs would help the program reach its full potential.” The report requests that “the Director consider developing a formal, NIH-wide plan on how to align the CTSAs with the programmatic and funding priorities of the ICs.”

House L/HHS Action

The U.S. House Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee approved its version of the bill on July 15. The House version provides $77.5 billion in discretionary funds for the HHS, $189 million (0.2 percent) less than the request. NIH would receive the same as in the Senate bill, $32.0 billion.

Unfortunately, report language accompanying the bill will not be made available until after the full House Appropriations Committee considers the bill. (Bill language usually is written at the subcommittee level.) There is no indication as to when the bill will go to the full committee. However, neither the House nor Senate bills will go to their respective floors before the November elections. Look for continuing resolutions after Congress returns in September.

NSF Fares Somewhat Better than NIH

The U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee approved the Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2011 (S.3636) on July 22. The bill includes $7.35 billion for the National Science Foundation, $71 million (1.0 percent) less than the President’s request. This translates to a 7.2 percent increase.

In contrast, the U.S. House Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations Subcommittee met the President’s request of $7.42 billion for the NSF when it approved its version of the bill on June 29. The House bill also provides the NSF education budget with a $66 million increase over the President’s request. If the increase holds, it would be the second year in a row that Congress has increased the NSF education budget. The Senate bill does not provide an increase over the request, but it does deny the request to merge a number of broadening participation programs into a single program, citing different purposes and methods of engaging students and colleges.

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