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Drive to Increase NIH Funds Faces Stiff Battle in Congress

Drive to Increase NIH Funds Faces Stiff Battle in Congress

WASHINGTON—After a $2 billion increase last year, the drive to double the NIH’s budget over 5 years faces a stiff battle in Congress this year. Under Senate rules, it takes 60 votes to increase spending, and an initial attempt to provide an extra $2 billion for biomedical research in FY 2000 has failed 52 to 48.

“We are in a very difficult situation,” said Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Penn), chairman of the appropriations subcommittee that oversees the NIH budget. He suggested health groups turn their powers of persuasion on “the 52 US senators who voted against increasing NIH funding.”

The Senate is very good at passing nonbinding resolutions supporting huge increases for NIH, he said, but it is less willing to provide the funds without stripping the money from other programs.

Sen. Specter spoke during Capitol Hill ceremonies honoring the four recipients of the Paul E. Tsongas Memorial Award. Sen. Specter shared the award with Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Rep. Rick Lazio (R-NY), and Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy

(D-RI). It is presented by the Lymphoma Research Foundation of America to “recognize outstanding legislative leadership and a commitment to and support of health care issues, which result in improving the quality of life for all Americans.” The award is named for the late Sen. Paul E. Tsongas of Massachusetts, who served as honorary chair of LRFA from its inception in 1991. He died of complications of lymphoma treatment in 1997. The first Tsongas award was given that year to Senators Connie Mack (R-Fla) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif), co-chairs of the Senate Cancer Coalition.

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