Washington Editor

WASHINGTON - A House subcommittee meeting called to discuss digestive disease research opportunities erupted into a brief argument when one lawmaker charged that if re-elected, President Bush plans to cut the National Institutes of Health's budget next year.

Citing a memo leaked to The Washington Post, Rep. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), a member of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health, said the Bush administration intends to cut $600 million from the NIH's $20 billion-plus budget next year.

In an angry response, Rep. Steve Buyer (R-Ind.), said he finds such comments "breathless," particularly given the fact that Republicans have worked hard to double the NIH budget.

Beginning in fiscal year 1999, Congress and the Clinton administration agreed to double NIH funding by 2003, a commitment honored by the Bush administration. About 75 percent to 80 percent of NIH money is awarded to the science and research community in the form of grants. (See BioWorld Today, March 1, 2001.)

Indeed, Rep. Fred Upton, a Republican from Michigan who was on the team that spearheaded the effort to double the budget, said there's no way NIH funding will be cut.

"It ain't gonna happen," he said.

A promise to fulfill the NIH's needs was received favorably by witnesses who testified on behalf of the NIH, the Washington-based Digestive Disease National Coalition and the New York-based Crohn's & Colitis Foundation of America.

The consensus among advocacy group representatives was support of two bills that would provide additional funding and resources to digestive disease research.

Introduced in January 2003 by Rep. Sue Kelly (R-NY) and Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.), the Inflammatory Bowel Disease Act (HR290) would give $75 million in fiscal year 2004 and $100 million in fiscal 2005 (and possibly in 2006 and 2007) to expand research within the NIH's National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). Also, the legislation would provide the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta with $5 million in fiscal 2004 and addition funds as necessary for fiscal 2006 and 2007.

Even though the Kelly-Jackson legislation has support in the House to the tune of 177 co-sponsors, subcommittee Chairman Michael Bilirakis (R-Fla.) asked panel members if they would prefer Congress to mandate spending on certain diseases as opposed to letting the NIH decide on its own how to spend money.

Neither Allen Spiegel, director of the NIDDK, nor David Peura, a physician who spoke on behalf of the Digestive Disease National Coalition, rejected the so-called mandate that is part of the Kelly-Jackson bill.

Peura said research funding of any disease ultimately helps other diseases.

Meanwhile, the other bill, titled The National Commission on Digestive Diseases Act (HR3756), would create a commission to assess the state of digestive diseases and to make recommendations on research priorities going forward. The legislation was introduced by Reps. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Bobby Rush (D-Ill.)

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