NIH Funding Unsettled as Congress Goes Home for July 4

Legislation to fund the federal Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services and Education (call it the L-HHS bill) was completed on June 13, but some predict it won't get its day on the House floor until AFTER the November elections.

Legislation to fund the federal Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services and Education (call it the L-HHS bill) was completed on June 13, but some predict it won't get its day on the House floor until AFTER the November elections. There are several issues that make the bill controversial: first, a $2 increase in the minimum wage was adopted: the House leadership wants the amendment removed, and moderates and Democrats want it left in. Second, and more to the point of scientists' concerns, there are generally low funding levels in the bill that Democrats and some moderates oppose. Also, there are $1 billion in earmarks in the bill that some Republicans oppose, and the bill's overall funding level is $4 billion over the President's request, which budget hawks oppose. The Congressional leadership can justly assume that passage of this bill isn't going to make anyone happy.

The measure provides $454.6 billion for mandatory programs and $141.9 billion for discretionary programs, which includes research programs. The House bill provides $28.3 billion for NIH, only slightly above last year's level and equal to the President's budget request. Most institute budgets would decrease if this level of funding were adopted. For example, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) would receive $1.23 billion, $7 million less than Fiscal Year 2006. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) would receive $995 million, or $5.2 million less than the current year's funding. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) would receive $1.4 billion, or $8.7 million less than current funding.

APA worked with members of the House L-HHS Committee to highlight important areas of behavioral and social science research that needed emphasis. In the report accompanying the bill, the Appropriations Committee urges the Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research (OBSSR) to continue working to build alliances among institutes that support and nurture basic behavioral and social science research. In particular, OBSSR is encouraged to "partner with the NIGMS [National Institute of General Medical Sciences] and other funders of basic research to enhance support for work on methods, animal models, and the interplay of biological factors, behavioral and social influences underlying phenomena such as stress that influence multiple conditions."

The Senate is a couple of steps behind the House in working on its version of the appropriations bills. Allocations to each of the appropriations subcommittees in the Senate were just approved, but they are more generous to the programs in the Labor-HHS bill than those of the House. The Senate allocation is $5 billion above the President's request; the House allocation for the same bill was $4.1 billion above the President's request. The Specter-Harkin amendment, which the Senate approved during debate on the budget, did contribute to the quest for a larger L-HHS allocation, but the full $7 billion that the amendment called for was not added.

The Senate version of the L-HHS bill will likely come to the Senate floor in mid-July. As usual, SPIN readers should remember that there are many steps in the journey to each year's funding, so watch this publication to keep track of the trip.