This year's federal budget and appropriations process is likely to be very contentious this year with strong disagreements between the Senate, the House, among moderate and conservative congressional Republicans, and members of the Budget and Appropriations committees. The question remains: Will medical and cancer research funding be cut for a second consecutive year?
Although the House Budget Committee passed a comprehensive fiscal year 2007 budget plan equaling $2.8 trillion—closely following the recommendations in President Bush's budget—by party line vote of 22-17 on March 30, 2006, conflicts between moderate and conservative House Republicans effectively prevented the bill from being considered by the full House. No further action was taken as the House started its two week Easter recess; nor is any expected.
Instead the both Senate and House Appropriations Committees expect to begin working their respective appropriations bills in early May. The Senate will work off of the blueprint of the budget passed by the full chamber. The House, since it did not pass a budget bill, will base their recommendations on President Bush's budget. For medical research advocates, these bills represent a difference of at least $7 billion.
During consideration of the bill, the House Budget Committee rejected an amendment—similar to the Specter-Harkin Amendment included in the final version of the budget passed earlier this year by the Senate—to increase health and education spending by $7 billion, by a party line vote of 14-22. House Budget Chairman Jim Nussle (R-IA) indicated that he supported following the president's recommendation. If passed, such a budget would sharply cut all funding not related to defense or homeland security.
Reps. Mike Castle (R-DE), Nancy Johnson (R-CT), and Dave Reichert (R-WA) promised to offer an amendment during full House consideration of the budget bill similar to the Specter-Harkin Amendment. Castle, along with 22 Republicans, also signed a letter to Speaker of the House Hastert to increase non-security spending by 2 percent as compared to the 0.5 percent cut recommended by House conservatives.
Since the House leadership felt it did not have the votes to pass the budget bill, it is unlikely that one will be passed. Another reason for the inaction was opposition from House appropriators, who want more resources to work with as they formulate their spending bills this year.
National Institutes of Health Director Elias Zerhouni testified on April 6, 2006 outlining the needs and opportunities for medical research funding. Read a PDF of the NIH's Fiscal Year 2007 President's Budget Summary. Based on his testimony, it is obvious that continued cuts to NIH funding will continue to decelerate the pace of medical research activity.
All these circumstances will likely create a similar scenario as in past years when Congress failed to agree on a comprehensive budget bill. This means that the conflicts in the House will have to be ironed out in the House and Senate Appropriations Committees and fights on spending will remain contentious and unpredictable as the year progresses.
And most importantly, it means that advocates will have to keep cancer and medical research funding from being obscured by the war in Iraq, rising gas prices, immigration, and any other issues that may dominate the national political scene.