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CLS Condemns the President's FY09 NIH Budget Proposal

Statement by The Coalition for the Life Sciences on The President’s FY09 Budget Proposal for the National Institutes of Health

President Bush has proposed a budget for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in FY09 with no appreciable increase over the budget enacted for FY08. This budget would constitute NIH’s sixth consecutive sub-inflationary budget and constrain the ability of the nation’s biomedical research community to take advantage of stunning new opportunities to make progress against human disease and disability. The Coalition for the Life Sciences (CLS) deplores the continued undermining of medical science by the President and calls upon the Congress to mount a bipartisan effort to restore the vitality of the Federal research enterprise.

From 1998 to 2003 both political parties fulfilled a pledge to double the budget of the NIH. The goals were to reap the benefits of new developments in biomedical science, such as the human genome project and new methods for studying disease, while also rebuilding neglected infrastructure. After doubling the NIH budget, support was expected to grow at or modestly above inflationary rates, to sustain a research community enlarged by greater resources, strengthened by enhanced facilities, and inspired by expanded research opportunities.

Instead, NIH has experienced five successive years of sub-inflationary appropriations resulting in a loss of purchasing power of about 15%. As a result, many opportunities for making progress against disease have been delayed because both experienced and new investigators can not obtain funds for their research programs. If NIH had received annual inflationary increases (of about 4%) since 2003, its current budget would be $32.9 billion, $3.6 billion more than the actual FY08 budget of $29.3 billion. The President’s “flat” budget proposed for FY09 is extremely disappointing for at least two other reasons:

(i) In the appropriations cycle for FY08, Congress countered the President’s proposal for an essentially flat budget by incorporating a 3.1% increase into a bill that was vetoed by President Bush. When efforts to override the veto failed by a mere two votes in the House, a renegotiated bill removed $700 million from the NIH’s appropriation. The will of the Congress last year to begin to repair NIH’s budgetary fortunes should be reflected in the bill it passes this year for FY09.

(ii) Despite the budgetary shortfalls at NIH, biomedical research in the U.S. and abroad continue to generate exciting new findings. The development of induced pluripotent stem cells from adult cells, ever more rapid methods to sequence genomes, discoveries of disease-inducing mutations, and new targets for treatment of cancer and infectious diseases such as influenza are among the many new prospects for more effective control of a wide range of human disorders.

"Sustained support at inflationary rates or more is essential for maintaining a vigorous portfolio of basic, translational, and clinical studies,” said Nobel Laureate Harold Varmus, Chair of the CLS, President of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, and former NIH Director.

The CLS urges Congress to fix what the President has mismanaged. The CLS strongly recommends that Congress fund the NIH with predictable increases that, at least, keep pace with biomedical inflation and begin to repair the damage from a succession of inadequate budgets.

The U.S. cannot afford continued erosion of the funding of vital medical research when healthcare costs are at an all-time high, when the nation’s population is rapidly aging, and when the burden of disease remains high in poor countries around the globe. Efforts to control disease must begin with sustained support for the engine that drives discovery, the NIH.