By Lisa Seachrist
WASHINGTON —A The National Institutes of Health (NIH) will likely be a beneficiary in the 1998 budget battle in Congress.
Every member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education voiced disappointment with the level of funding for NIH after Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala presented the Clinton Administration's budget on Tuesday.
"I am very disappointed with the president's budget," said subcommittee chair John Porter [R-Ill.]. " I don't think that we can afford to put biomedical research on hold."
Every member of the subcommittee, Republican and Democrat, voiced support for increased research funding for NIH. The administration is proposing to give NIH a 2.6 percent increase over fiscal year 1997 to $13.1 billion.
However, Porter noted that was below the rate of inflation for biomedical research and the fact that $90 million is scheduled to go to the construction of a new clinical center means that the increase is really closer to 2 percent.
"I would like to see biomedical research increase," said Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.). "As a direct recipient of the fruits of biomedical research, having survived ovarian cancer, I know the benefits."
New York Democrat Nita Lowey pointed out that there was bipartisan agreement that investments in NIH were necessary to keep the agency as the preeminent biomedical research institution in the world.
Secretary Shalala acknowledged the subcommittee's concerns but pointed out that "in an era of limited public resource we have to make tough choices."
Shalala continued by saying that "the administration fully supports biomedical research and would be happy to allocate more funds, but we need to know where that money will come from."
The secretary's answer, however, failed to sway Dan Miller (R-Fla.) who thought that the NIH appropriations was "sort of a cop out in a way because the administration knows we will increase funding for NIH."
Jay Dickey (R-Ariz.) was less sanguine. He maintained that the administration chose to underfund NIH because the committee supported the research institution, thereby forcing the committee to make unpopular cuts in entitlements such as Medicare and Medicaid.
"This committee almost has an addiction to NIH," Dickey said. "And the administration knows that. $500 million is what we are going to have to add, and this budget leaves the tough cuts to this committee."
Shalala took offense at the suggestion saying, "Anyone who thinks that this budget is a sham was not there when we were putting it together. We labeled our priorities and still chose to give the largest dollar increase to NIH."
The pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries appear to have fewer advocates on the subcommittee than the NIH. None of the members expressed concern over funding for FDA.
The administration's budget calls for the FDA to receive $68 million more in fiscal year 1998 than in 1997. However, the budget is counting on $134 million more in user fees during 1998. In essence, the agency is taking an 8 percent cut in federal funding which will be made up with user fees.
Biotechnology Industry Organization President Carl Feldbaum called the budget "a big disappointment that isn't in the interest of the public health."
Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) said last week that it "supports full funding for the drug approval process." The statement also pointed out that the industry has contributed to $325 million in user fees and is prepared to continue the program, but "it's success requires that FDA have adequate resources."
Feldbaum said that BIO intends to fight for full FDA funding. *