May 2, 2017

NIH Gets Funding Boost as Congress Rejects Trump Funding Cuts

The recent appropriations bill passed by Congress this week has some good news for NIH and the biomedical research community. The Trump administration had proposed cutting the NIH budget by about 18% for the upcoming year, and stripping $1.8 billion from the current year, compounding more than a decade of funding declines. Support for NIH in general has been bipartisan over the years, but that has not shielded the agency from funding volatility over the last decade or so. As reported previously here, the Trump proposal to slash NIH funding was a pillar of the emerging March for Science movement, and a motivator for participation in the April 22 march. 

The Congress has now rejected the Trump proposal:
Lawmakers increased the budget for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in its bipartisan deal to fund the government, effectively ignoring the Trump administration’s proposal.

Congress bolstered funding by $2 billion over the next five months, securing $34.1 billion for the NIH. It's the biggest boost the NIH has received in more than a decade, higher than at any point during the Obama administration.

The explanation for the Congressional resistance is multi-layered, and certainly the visibility of the NIH proposal was very high and the resistance was very public. In addition, Democratic strategizing in the budget process negotiations played a key role. The recent 21st Century Cures Act (see here) which focuses on breakthrough projects (but was not explicitly funded; see here) is now specifically funded in this new bill. More funding fights loom, however, as the 2017-2018 fiscal year is not far away, and the future proposed cuts to NIH are not resolved. But it's fair to say that the collective resistance to this year's NIH cuts (followed by its success) demonstrated significant political muscle, likely to be exercised in the next round of negotiations.