The nation’s scientific research community hit the panic button last week after the Trump administration targeted the National Institutes of Health – the nation’s premier biomedical research organization -- for a budget cut of as much as 20 percent.
The proposed $5.8 billion reductions in NIH funding for grants and aid was contained in the fiscal 2018 budget blueprint President Trump submitted to Congress on Thursday, which seeks devastatingly deep cuts in many federal agencies and programs. More than 80 percent of NIH’s funding is awarded through nearly 50,000 competitive grants to more than 300,000 researchers at more than 2,500 universities, medical schools and other research institutions in the U.S. and overseas.
“Drastic cuts to the National Institutes of Health budget run counter to the priorities of our nation, national security, and the aspirations of Americans,” Mary Woolley, president and CEO of Research! America, a non-profit research and public advocacy group, said in a statement.
But it looks as if House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) just gave the NIH a reprieve from the Trumpian budget ax. In an appearance yesterday on Fox News Sunday, Ryan stressed that Trump’s budget plan was merely the opening gambit and that Congress will have the final say in where the cuts will be made.
While a major boost in defense spending is an important priority, said Ryan, a former House Budget Committee chair, “I will say that NIH is something that is particularly popular in Congress.”
Ryan noted that Congress last December overwhelmingly passed the CURE Act, sweeping legislation that boosts funding for medical research, expedites approval of experimental treatments for cancer patients, and reforms policy on mental health care.
That legislation authorizes $4.8 billion in new funding for NIH. Of that total, $1.8 billion was earmarked for the “cancer moonshot” initiated by former Vice President Joe Biden to speed up cancer research.
“We really think we’re kind of getting close to some breakthrough discoveries on cancer and other diseases,” Ryan said yesterday in discussing Trump’s proposed cut in NIH spending. “So that’s something that I think in Congress you will see some changes.”