The new year is off to a most positive start with passage of a $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill by the 114th Congress, and recently signed by the President. This new spending bill increases funding for biomedical research substantially. Funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will increase by about $2 billion, and the new NIH appropriation will total about $32 billion. This exceptionally good news is not to be taken lightly. In 2009, at the beginning of the current administration, the NIH budget was $29.5 billion. From 2009 to 2015, the NIH budget stagnated, and actually lost ground in terms of inflation-adjusted dollars. In 2015, the NIH budget was a modest (only by Washington, DC standards) $30.1 billion. One only need to compare that budget with the 2009 budget to deduce that neither the previous Congresses, nor the current administration, was able to navigate a divisive political atmosphere to continue supporting the country’s critical investment in biomedical research. Fortunately, the 114th Congress gets it! The current increase is highly positive and ends an unfortunate sustained lack of federal investment in research. However positive, the current increase is just a beginning, and the Congress and the next administration must embrace the pragmatic need to keep the country’s investments in medical research ongoing and increasing in a predictable manner. If you recall, HR-6, the 21st Century Cures Act suggested just that. The 21st Century Cures Act recommended a multi-year, incremental investment in biomedical research funding to put the NIH on more stable footing, with the ability to fund research knowing what the out year budgets might be. While the 21st Century Cures Act was passed overwhelmingly in the House, it continues to languish in the Senate.
And what about everyone else?
In addition to the increase in the NIH budget to about $32 billion (a 6.6% increase, largest increase in 12 years) other entities supporting medical research also received increased budget appropriations. The NSF will see a 1.6% increase ($119 million) to a new budget of $7.46 billion. The research appropriation for the VA’s Office of Research and Development will see a 7% increase in its research budget to $631 million, its largest budget ever. Only the AHRQ will experience a budget decrease, of 8% from $364 million to $334 million, (this could be viewed as progress as HR-6, the 21st Century Cures Act, proposed to terminate all funding for the AHRQ). Let’s hope that congressional support for further investment in medically focused research continues for the next period of time, providing the academic enterprise, and its research faculty, some stability and the assurance that this most critical academic mission in not again shortchanged or caught up in partisan bickering. The only remaining concern is that despite being passed by Congress and signed by the President, report language—what the Congress expects the funded departments or agencies to do with the increased revenues from the new budget agreement–is still not available for this Omnibus spending bill.
For additional information, see also news.sciencemag.org 12/18/2015
Coming next: Update on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA): Good and bad.