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Call Congress on April 8 to Support OVAC Agenda
By Greg Brozeit

Your voices are needed on to call your members of Congress on Tuesday, April 8, 2003.

As part of the One Voice Against Cancer (OVAC) Lobby Day, all the attending advocates are scheduled to meet with their senators and representatives on Tuesday, April 8 to advocate for funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Cancer Institute (NCI), National Center for Minority Health and Health Disparities (NCMHD), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) cancer programs.

Your calls to the offices on the day of their visits will reinforce their message and demonstrate the depth of support for cancer research funding.

Supporting the OVAC Agenda

Call and request support for OVAC's Fiscal Year 2004 requests which include:

  • $29.6 billion for NIH. This request reflects an 8.5% increase in the NIH budget as was proposed by Sen. Arlen Specter, chairman of the Senate Labor, Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee, at last year's hearing in which IMF President Susie Novis testified on behalf all the members of OVAC.
  • $5.9 billion for NCI to fulfill the NCI Director's Bypass Budget Request.
  • $200 million for the NCMHD to address discrepancies found under-served populations including African-Americans and those living in rural areas.
  • $364 million for the CDC's cancer prevention and control programs.

Call, identify yourself and where you live, and ask the offices to send you a letter to find out their positions on these requests.

Please check the Myeloma Minute in future dates for follow-up activities.

How to Identify Your Senators and Representative

If you are unsure about who your representative or senators are, please call 202-225-3121 for the House of Representatives switchboard, tell the operator your zip code and address if needed, and you will be forwarded to the correct office. The Senate switchboard number is 202-224-3121.

Your can also check through the web at the C-SPAN website at http://capwiz.com/c-span/dbq/officials/. You will need to type in your zip code, preferably your nine-digit zip code. If you do not know your nine-digit code, the site will ask for your address if you live in a five-digit zip code shared by two or more representatives. The links to the senators and representatives will provide their phone numbers.

If you know who your representative and senators are, you may also check the blue pages of your local telephone book.

How Congress Engages in Cancer Research Funding

As I have written before, if you are interested in making sure that NCI has the funds to engage in new research for myeloma, you must focus on the annual appropriations process. Remember that Congress does not appropriate funds for specific medical research programs, projects, specific diseases, or cancers. Instead, Congress appropriates lump sums of annual funding to the NIH and its respective institutes and grants their directors the discretion to exercise their judgment based on scientific opportunity.

Congress does not fund research for specific disease categories. Instead, Congress appropriates lump sums to institutes such as NCI and grants the director the discretion to determine how those funds are distributed. Indeed, Congress specifically prohibits any earmarking of funding for specific research projects.

This was stated unequivocally in the 2002 House report to the Labor, HHS, and Education appropriations bill (H. Rept. 107-229):

"Balance in the Research Portfolio- The Committee believes that NIH should distribute funding on the basis of scientific opportunity... The Committee urges the Director and the Administration to continue to resist pressures to earmark, set-aside and otherwise politicize these invaluable resources...

"To enhance NIH's flexibility to allocate funding based on scientific opportunity, the Committee has attempted to minimize the amount of direction provided in the report accompanying the bill. For example, there are no directives to fund particular research mechanisms, such as centers or requests for applications, or specific amounts of funding for particular diseases." (emphasis added)

As I have written previously, we have entered a new age in cancer research—the age of genomics and proteomics. Now researchers are moving away from "body part" research to search for genetic and protein targets that cause cancer and the pathways to deliver the appropriate drugs to those targets.

This new approach has made research into fields such as myeloma more attractive than ever. But the funding will needed to realize this promising research.

Your Advocacy is Needed Now More Than Ever

Although the success of doubling the NIH budget over the past five years has been achieved, both NIH Director Elias Zerhouni and NCI Director Andrew von Eschenbach have stated funding increases of at least 8% are needed to achieve the advances in research that are realistically achievable.

This year President Bush has recommended increases of less than 2% in his proposed budget. These recommendations do not even keep up with the annual rate of inflation. If these levels are signed into law at the end of the year, it will mean that research activity will have to cut back. Considering that NCI now only funds 28% of its approved grants, this would have serious consequences for myeloma patients.

NCI Director von Eschenbach recently announced his initiative to eliminate suffering and death due to cancer by the year 2015. While this goal may have seemed utopian just a few years ago, the advent of genomics and proteomics-based research makes it a distinct possibility.

But we will only win this war if, as President Bush stated last year, "if we fund the war on cancer." Unfortunately, the president's budget request does not match his rhetoric. Your advocacy will be needed now and throughout the year to make sure that Congress fulfills his intentions.

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