The House Budget Committee is expected to take up an amendment offered by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) to add $7 billion to the House Budget Resolution to increase health and education spending. The amendment is similar to one passed by the Senate in mid-March 2006. It will likely face greater opposition in the House than in the Senate.
The One Voice Against Cancer (OVAC) cancer funding coalition released an alert for advocates to immediately contact members of the House to support the same health and education funding levels passed by the Senate.
In a further sign of a changing political climate in Washington, Republican House moderates, led by Rep. Mike Castle (R-DE), have become increasingly critical of the president's budget proposal. Castle, the Republican lead to overturn President Bush's restrictions on stem cell research, recently held a press conference in Washington to announce his opposition to further belt-tightening measures affecting medical research (see below).
According to many reports out of Washington, the Senate's passage of the Specter-Harkin amendment has strengthened the commitment of many representatives to resist the House leadership's plan to limit spending well below the Senate bill.
For example, Representatives E. Clay Shaw, Jr. (R-FL) and Collin Peterson (D-MN), both cancer survivors and co-founders of the House 2015 Caucus—members of Congress committed to the administration's goal of ending suffering and death due to cancer by the year 2015—sent a letter to the House Appropriations Committee on March 22, 2006 to urge funding increases for cancer programs.
According to the letter, "NCI experts estimate that maintaining current services would require an increase of $296 million. That increase is the amount that will be required to sustain existing NCI programs and provide for minimal growth... The federal contribution leverages funding from other sources far beyond the amount of the federal investment."
Senate Action Provides Hope for Cancer Advocates
The Senate rejected the Bush Administration's spending proposal and passed a $2.8 trillion Fiscal Year 2007 Budget Resolution by a narrow 51-49 vote on March 16, 2006. The amount passed by the Senate is more than $16 billion higher than the administration's budget proposal. The Budget Resolution represents the amount the Senate proposes to fund all discretionary (not including entitlements such as Social Security and Medicare) federal programs.
Earlier in the day, the Senate overwhelmingly supported the amendment to the Fiscal Year 2007 Budget Resolution offered by Senators Specter (R-PA) and Harkin (D-IA) by a vote of 73-27 . Under the terms of the amendment, $7 billion was added to the total amount allocated for health and education programs.
Many independent reports confirmed that Senate offices were being deluged with calls from constituents to support Specter-Harkin. This, together with a weakening of party discipline to completely support the administration's priorities, is the most cited reason for the strong vote in favor of the amendment.
Additionally, Senate Budget Committee negotiations included an amendment offered by Senators Feinstein (D-CA), Mikulski (D-MD), and Collins (R-ME) to allocate $390 million more for specific cancer programs at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Cancer Institute (NCI), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Next the House will consider their budget proposal. Many observers believe that the House will be less generous in allocating funding for health and education programs. If that does prove to be true, it will be up to a conference committee of House and Senate members to decide the final allocation.
However, if the House and Senate agree on the $7 billion increase in the Specter-Harkin, the next stage in the process will be to advocate for specific increases for NIH, NCI, and CDC cancer programs. So while the first big vote was a resounding success for disease research, there will be many, many more hurdles to cross as the legislative progresses this year.