WASHINGTON -- Despite support from Sen. Tom Harkin,chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor,Health and Human Services, and Education, medical researchfunding faces an uphill budget battle this year.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH), typically a winner inthe budget sweepstakes, took an unusual hit this year;President Clinton's 1994 budget request would reduce theagency's funding by 1.3 percent.
In his opening remarks at the subcommittee's hearing on theNIH budget on Wednesday, Iowa Democrat Harkin could hardlycontain his anger over the president's treatment of Harkin'sfavorite agency. "When (Health and Human Services SecretaryDonna) Shalala came before our subcommittee May 14, I statedthat this is the worst budget for medical research I havereceived in all my years in Congress.
"The targeted and investment increases in this budget for AIDS,the special initiative for breast cancer (combined total $444million), plus increases for human genome and high-performance computing, exceed the overall increase for theentire NIH ($341 million) for next year." And leaving out thetargeted programs, the NIH suffers a 2.3 percent reduction -- a"stealth cut."
"Equally disturbing," Harkin added, "is the fact that thisadministration fails to accept that medical research is aninvestment program. The budget recognizes that the NationalScience Foundation, with its 7.3 percent increase from 1993 to1994, is an investment. It believes that NASA, with its 8.2percent increase, is an investment.
In an op-ed piece in The New York Times on May 12, Harkinwrote, "This country will not remain the biotechnology leader ifwe do not invest more heavily in medical research." And thesenator told BioWorld on Wednesday that "NIH's basic researchfuels the biotechnology industry."
But Harkin faces a tough challenge to to find more money forNIH. "The budget outline has been passed by Congress already,"Alex Sachs, Harkin's deputy press secretary, told BioWorld.Harkin has tried to enlist several cabinet secretaries toadvocate a shift in priorities away from "Star Wars," thesuperconducting supercollider, the space station and militaryintelligence.
In his Times article, Harkin proposed a medical research trustfund, to be paid for by a monthly $5 surcharge on all healthinsurance policies. The $6 billion raised annually, he said at thehearing, would supplement annual appropriations for NIH, andwould be distributed around the agency in the sameproportions as regular NIH appropriations. Sen. Mark Hatfield,R-0re., will co-sponsor the legislation.
Meanwhile, Harkin on Wednesday tried to determinespecifically some of NIH's funding requirements, beginningwith the human genome project. "How much money do youneed to map and sequence the genome by the end of thedecade?" Harkin asked Francis Collins, the new director of NIH'sgenome project.
"We never even made it to $200 million," said Collins. The fiscal1994 budget request for the genome project is $134.5 million.With more money, said Collins, "we could have that BRAC1 genetoday," referring to the recently mapped gene for breastcancer.
Harkin then asked Collins to spend several hours briefing himin private on genome research and its needs.
-- David C. Holzman Washington Editor
(c) 1997 American Health Consultants. All rights reserved.