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Senate Fails to Pass Amendment to Increase Research Funds

Despite a passionate appeal by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), the U.S. Senate failed to pass the Specter-Harkin-Feinstein Amendment on September 10, 2003 to add $1.5 billion to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) budget for fiscal year 2004. The final tally for the amendment was 52-43, falling 8 votes short of the 60 votes needed to pass and represents a stunning defeat for the medical research community.

The House and Senate have approved $27.56 billion and $27.84 billion, respectively, for NIH heading into the conference committee to reconcile the bills which contain the funding. Last year's funding level for NIH was $27.2 billion.

Please check the vote tally at the end of this article and contact and thank the senators who supported the Specter-Harkin-Feinstein Amendment and encourage them to continue to seek the highest possible funding levels in conference.

Budget Process Complicates Vote

Funding for NIH is part of the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education appropriations bill. With more than $130 billion of discretionary spending, this bill is second in size only to the Defense appropriations bill among the 13 bills Congress must approve to annually fund the federal government operations.

Amendments to increase funds for specific programs must include offsets, i.e., designations of reductions in other programs to balance the increases. This is a requirement of the Budget Act which sets the spending limits for the 13 appropriations subcommittees. Each of the subcommittees is required to remain within those limits.

The sponsors of the amendments chose not to seek offsets and instead sought to waive the Budget Act by declaring the proposed $1.5 billion increase as emergency spending. If approved, the emergency spending provision would allow the Senate to approve more than the Budget Act required.

Sixty votes are required to waive the Budget Act, not a simple majority.

Contentious Debate Proceeds Vote

The final debate on the amendment became unusually contentious as the vote approached, pitting Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, against Sen. Don Nickles (R-OK), chairman of Senate Budget Committee, both prostate cancer survivors.

Sen. Nickles objected to the emergency funding designation because, in his view, it violated the intent of the Budget Act and Sen. Stevens' pledge to keep each of the 13 appropriations bills within their designated spending levels. Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND), ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, supported Sen. Nickles' arguments in a strongly worded statement.

Sen. Stevens responded that he was voting to support the emergency funding designation because he had made a pledge to President Bush that, as chairman of appropriations, he would work to finalize 13 appropriations bills that remained within the overall spending limits of the entire Budget Act. In other words, if the Labor, HHS, and Education appropriations bill were $1.5 billion above the approved spending limits as defined by the Budget Act, he would work in conference with the House to trim $1.5 billion out of the remaining 12 appropriations bills in order to meet the overall spending limitations.

Sen. Nickles continued to object stating that NIH funding was a regularly appropriated item and did not fall under the category of emergency spending. Arguing that this logic could be used to justify any spending as emergency spending, he maintained his opposition to the amendment.

Sen. Harkin Speaks for Disease Communities

Sen. Harkin's closing comments before the vote to waive the Budget Act summed up the real issues surrounding the procedural debate.

"An emergency, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder," said Sen. Harkin. "In my opinion, every penny spent on NIH is an emergency. Tell a family whose child has been diagnosed with juvenile diabetes it is not an emergency. Tell a family whose mother has been diagnosed with breast cancer that it is not an emergency. Tell a family whose loved one has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease that it is not an emergency."

Vote Tally and Next Steps

Listed below is the final vote tally on the amendment. Please contact your senators to express your thanks to those who supported the amendment and disappointment to those who did not or missed the vote. The only exception is Sen. Gordon Smith (R-OR) one of the strongest supporters of cancer research funding in the Senate who missed the vote to the tragic death of his son.

The silver lining in this disappointing vote is that a majority of senators supported a substantial increase for NIH. We must acknowledge and support them and continue to hold those who do not support us accountable.

Everyone says they support medical research. This vote showed who meant it.

Roll Call Vote on the Specter-Harkin-Feinstein Amendment
(52 Yeas-43 Nays-5 Not Voting)

Sen. Richard Shelby (R) – Yes
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R) – No

Sen. Ted Stevens (R) – Yes
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R) – Yes

Sen. John McCain (R) – No
Sen. John Kyl (R) – No

Sen. Blanche L. Lincoln (D) – Yes
Sen. Mark Pryor (D) – No

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) – Yes
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) – Yes

Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R) – Yes
Sen. Wayne Allard (R) – No

Sen. Christopher Dodd (D) – No
Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D) – Not Voting

Sen. Joseph Biden (D) – Yes
Sen. Thomas Carper (D) – No

Sen. Bob Graham (D) – Not Voting
Sen. Ben Nelson (D) – Yes

Sen. Zell Miller (D) – Yes
Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R) – No

Sen. Daniel Inouye (D) – Yes
Sen. Daniel Akaka (D) – Yes

Sen. Larry Craig (R) – No
Sen. Michael Crapo (R) – No

Sen. Richard Durbin (D) – Yes
Sen. Peter Fitzgerald (R) – No

Sen. Richard Lugar (R) – No
Sen. Evan Bayh (D) – No

Sen. Tom Harkin (D) – Yes
Sen. Charles Grassley (R) – No

Sen. Sam Brownback (R) – Yes
Sen. Pat Roberts (R) – Yes

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R) – No
Sen. Jim Bunning (R) – No

Sen. John Breaux (D) – No
Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) – Yes

Sen. Olympia Snowe (R) – Yes
Sen. Susan Collins (R) – Yes

Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D) – Yes
Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D) – Yes

Sen. Edward Kennedy (D) – Yes
Sen. John Kerry (D) – Not Voting

Sen. Carl Levin (D) – Yes
Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D) – Yes

Sen. Mark Dayton (D) – Yes
Sen. Norm Coleman (R) – Yes

Sen. Thad Cochran (R) – No
Sen. Trent Lott (R) – Yes

Sen. Christopher Bond (R) – No
Sen. James Talent (R) – No

Sen. Max Baucus (D) – No
Sen. Conrad Burns (R) – No

Sen. Chuck Hagel (R) – No
Sen. Ben Nelson (D) – Yes

Sen. Harry Reid (D) – Yes
Sen. John Ensign (R) – No

New Hampshire
Sen. Judd Gregg (R) – No
Sen. John Sununu (R) – No

New Jersey
Sen. Jon Corzine (D) – Yes
Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D) – Yes

New Mexico
Sen. Pete Domenici (R) – Yes
Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D) – No

New York
Sen. Charles Schumer (D) – Yes
Sen. Hillary R. Clinton (D) – Yes

North Carolina
Sen. John Edwards (D) – Not Voting
Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R) – Yes

North Dakota
Sen. Kent Conrad (D) – No
Sen. Byron Dorgan (D) – Yes

Sen. Mike DeWine (R) – Yes
Sen. George Voinovich (R) – No

Sen. Don Nickles (R) – No
Sen. James Inhofe (R) – No

Sen. Ron Wyden (D) – Yes
Sen. Gordon Smith (R) – Not Voting

Sen. Arlen Specter (R) – Yes
Sen. Rick Santorum (R) – No

Rhode Island
Sen. Jack Reed (D) – Yes
Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R) – No

South Carolina
Sen. Ernest Hollings (D) – Yes
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) – No

South Dakota
Sen. Tom Daschle (D) – Yes
Sen. Tim Johnson (D) – Yes

Sen. Bill Frist (R) – No
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R) – No

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R) – Yes
Sen. John Cornyn (R) – No

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R) – Yes
Sen. Robert Bennett (R) – Yes

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D) – Yes
Sen. James Jeffords (I) – Yes

Sen. John Warner (R) – No
Sen. George Allen (R) – No

Sen. Patty Murray (D) – Yes
Sen. Maria Cantwell (D) – Yes

West Virginia
Sen. Robert Byrd (D) – No
Sen. John Rockefeller (D) – Yes

Sen. Herb Kohl (D) – Yes
Sen. Russell Feingold (D) – Yes

Sen. Craig Thomas (R) – No
Sen. Michael Enzi (R) – No

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