May 19, 2017
By Alex Keown, BioSpace.com Breaking News Staff
WASHINGTON – All eyes will be on the White House next week as President Donald Trump is expected to release his full budget proposal–which reportedly still contains deep cuts to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
In March, Trump unveiled a so-called “skinny budget,” which contained bullet points of his budget plan, which included the proposal to cut funding at the National Institutes of Health by more than $5 billion. However, Congress rebuked that budget plan earlier this month when it struck a budget deal to avoid a government shutdown. The new deal bumped NIH funding by $2 billion through the next five months.
Despite that reprieve, Trump’s budget proposal will include “a 10 percent cap on the NIH’s indirect costs,” The Atlantic reported, citing two unnamed sourced within the NIH who were briefed on the budget plan. Cuts to indirect costs would impact the funds the NIH uses to support the administration, equipment and upgrades, IT costs, heating, electricity, publications and other overhead, The Atlantic said.
The White House told The Atlantic that a final budget decision regarding the NIH has been made. An administration spokesperson described the budget proposal as complex with “many moving parts.
Under the President Trump’s initial proposal, which was released in March, the NIH would see a reorganization of its 27 institutes and centers. How a reorganization would play out has yet to be determined. The early proposal would also eliminate the Fogarty International Center which has a mission of building partnerships between health research institutions in the United State and globally. Approximately 80 percent of the NIH funding is sent to more than 300,000 researchers at institutions in the United States and across the globe. Because grants span multiple years, cuts the NIH could see under the president’s proposal could prove disruptive to medical research being conducted. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, a doctor, defended the proposal and the reduction in overhead costs, saying it would weed out inefficiencies. By reducing those overhead costs, Price said at the time that research would not be affected if federal funds included in grants for non-medical-related costs, such as utilities and paying for equipment used in research.
When Congress overrode the president’s March proposal in its stop-gap budget deal, the new funding for the NIH included an additional $400 million to research Alzheimer’s disease and an additional $476 million for the National Cancer Institute. Additionally, the Precision Medicine Initiative spearheaded by the previous administration of Barack Obama, received a $120 million increase to help recruit volunteers for genetic testing and the proposed health tracking plan. A program mapping the human brain received a $110 million boost.
While the president is reportedly still looking at reducing the NIH budget, it is unknown how members of his own political party will respond. Republican lawmakers, who are the majority party in Congress, were behind the additional funding the NIH received in the omnibus bill. Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma who chairs the house subcommittee with jurisdiction over NIH funding, called Trump’s initial budget proposal for the NIH “short-sighted,” The Atlantic said.