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Trump’s Plan to Cut NIH Funding for Biomedical Research Hits Opposition in Congress

Washington, DC, April 5, 2017 — Robert Pear reports in The New York Times that a proposal by President Trump to cut federal spending for biomedical research by 18 percent — just months after Congress approved bipartisan legislation to increase such spending — has run into a buzz saw on Capitol Hill, with Republicans and Democrats calling it misguided.

Mr. Trump is asking Congress to provide $25.9 billion for the National Institutes of Health for the fiscal year that starts on Oct. 1.  That represents a cut of $5.8 billion, or 18 percent, from the agency’s current spending level of $31.7 billion.

A week after making that proposal, Mr. Trump told Congress that he wanted to cut spending at the N.I.H. by $1.2 billion in the current fiscal year, mostly by reducing research grants.

While the agency does some research in its own laboratories, it distributes most of its funds to scientists around the country who are investigating cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, AIDS and other illnesses, as well as basic science that has no known link to a particular disease.

“I’m extremely concerned about the potential impact of the 18 percent cut,” said Representative Tom Cole, Republican of Oklahoma and chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee responsible for the National Institutes of Health.  “This committee and certainly me, personally, will be very hesitant” to go along with the proposal, he added.

Mr. Cole said he took “considerable pride” in the fact that Congress doubled the health institutes’ budget from 1998 to 2003 and increased it again in the 21st Century Cures Act, a biomedical research bill that passed Congress and was signed into by President Obama in December 2016.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price said the government could achieve huge savings next year without harming lifesaving research by paring back payments to universities for overhead — the “indirect costs” of research financed by the health institutes.

These include the cost of utilities, internet service, data storage, the construction and upkeep of laboratories, disposal of hazardous waste and compliance with federal rules protecting human subjects of clinical research.

“About 30 percent of the grant money that goes out is used for indirect expenses, which, as you know, means that that money goes for something other than the research that’s being done,” Mr. Price said.

But researchers said the remark showed a fundamental misunderstanding of the way biomedical research is conducted.

For Pear’s full story, click here.