Republicans ready to fight Trump’s cuts to medical research

Tribune News Service
Published: 3/16/2017 11:26:02 PM

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s budget would slash funding for the National Institutes of Health by nearly $6 billion, or 19 percent, a proposal that’s likely to run into staunch opposition from conservatives within Trump’s own party.

Two years ago, Republicans helped secure the largest budget increase for NIH in more than a decade. Led by Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt and Rep. Kevin Yoder and Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas, the effort resulted in a $2 billion jump in funding and enabled the NIH to give out 1,147 more grants nationwide.

The GOP lawmakers again worked across the aisle in November to pass the bipartisan Cures Act, which would allocate more money to the NIH. It had less than Blunt, Yoder and Moran had wanted, but more than President Barack Obama had requested in his budget.

So when the president released his budget Thursday, proposing an NIH budget of about $26 billion, it quickly became apparent that the NIH funding cuts were one of the few proposals that Republicans would be willing to criticize openly.

“More than 300 members voted to boost medical research by billions in November,” Yoder said in a statement, “we cannot turn around a few short months later and slash its budget.”

He said funding to research cures for diseases like cancer, Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s should be a priority regardless of political party.

The Trump budget provides no details, but pledges “a major reorganization of NIH’s Institutes and Centers to help focus resources on the highest priority research and training activities ... ” It also says it will reduce administrative costs and “rebalance federal contributions to research funding.”

Just last week, Blunt chaired a hearing on Capitol Hill to highlight the benefits of medical research at the NIH. In his opening statement, the Missouri senator stressed the importance of sustained increases in funding to NIH for biomedical researchers as they undertake multi-year studies in pursuit of new treatments and cures.

“The fiscal year 2016 funding increase cannot and should not be a one-hit wonder,” Blunt said. “We should not point to that and believe we have accomplished our goal. ... We do not know the scientific advances that will be made in the next 10 years, but we do know that if we keep investing in NIH, they will keep making life-saving breakthroughs.”

The cuts could threaten grant money available for research institutions and hospitals in lawmakers’ home states, including the University of Kansas Medical Center in Yoder’s district in suburban Kansas City, Mo., which received $51.3 million from the NIH last year, and Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, which got more than $407 million from NIH.

Adjusted for inflation, the institutes’ $32 billion annual budget already is nearly 20 percent smaller than it was in 2003, according to the Congressional Research Service.

The only hope for the NIH and medical researchers across the country is if for Republicans like Blunt to oppose Trump and put country above ideology, said John DiPersio, chief of the division of oncology at Washington University School of Medicine in Missouri, said

“I hope that these guys have enough gumption to stand up and say no,” DiPersio said.

When asked specifically about the proposed reductions in NIH funding, Blunt acknowledged “many concerns” about cuts to domestic spending programs in the president’s budget.

The budget is just a first step, and ultimately funding priorities will be determined by members of Congress, Blunt said in a statement to McClatchy.

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