Thursday April 15 6:20 PM ET
WASHINGTON, Apr 15 (Reuters Health) -- The fate of Republicans' pledge to double the budget for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) over 5 years is in doubt unless Congressional leaders agree to raise current spending limits, Rep. John Porter (R-IL) said Wednesday.
Speaking to the National Health Council, Porter, who chairs the House appropriations subcommittee that funds the NIH, said that the spending limits assumed in the budget resolution Congress is expected to approve this week "will make it far more difficult to accomplish" an increase for NIH equal to the 15% granted last year.
"We need to raise the caps," said Porter, referring to Congressionally
imposed limits on spending for all domestic programs, including
biomedical research. With such a strong economy, Porter added, "there is certainly a rationale for lifting them."
Leaving the spending limits in place, which in turn would limit the ability of Congress to provide NIH with a substantial increase, could have devastating effects on biomedical research in general, Porter said. With no assurance of stable, available funding, he said, "young researchers will simply leave the field."
Porter blasted President Clinton's budget proposal for NIH, which calls for an increase of only 2.4% -- really only 1.4% after accounting for the 1% set-aside to fund the Agency for Health Care Policy and Research.
"It's an absolute disaster," Porter said. He called the administration's proposal "cynical," adding that President Clinton "knows he can top out other accounts because he knows the Republicans will take care of NIH."
Porter also said he expects a fight in the House over NIH's legal interpretation that the Congressional ban on funding human embryo research does not include research on human stem cells, which are derived from embryos. Explicitly adding stem cell research to the embryo research ban "could pass the House," Porter said, although he doubts it could make it through the Senate or be signed into law by President Clinton.
Porter said he also hopes the fight does not otherwise bog the bill
down. "If we focus a great deal of attention on this fight we will get
the NIH budget caught up in something tangential to the whole enterprise,"