Dear Research Advocate:
The doubling of the National Institutes of Health budget between FY99 and FY03 is an example of Congress at its most productive … and it hinged on bipartisanship. A small group of Republicans and Democrats recognized the power of medical progress, and they worked together to increase the budget baseline for NIH by nearly $11.5 billion. Without that doubling, and with the stagnation of virtually all non-defense discretionary funding that followed on its heels, which groundbreaking medical discoveries would still lie dormant? Which of those we hold dear would not be alive today?
Research!America Chair and former Congressman John Porter, who chaired the House Labor-HHS Appropriations Subcommittee, was one of a relatively small group of champions on that bipartisan team. On Monday, March 31, the National Institutes of Health held a dedication ceremony for the John Edward Porter Neuroscience Research Center. NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins, Senators Tom Harkin and Mark Kirk, renowned researchers and NIH alumni Dr. Gerald Fischbach and Dr. Steven Hyman, and other distinguished leaders paid tribute to Congressman Porter, acknowledging his staunch commitment to bipartisanship and his extraordinary contribution to advancing medical research. As Congressman Porter emphasized during his remarks, the two are not unrelated. The severe partisan divide in Congress has served to perpetuate the stagnation of NIH resources, both by compromising the deliberative process that is meant to inform the prioritization of appropriated dollars and by stymying tax and entitlement reform. Scientists must fight back, buoyed by the high esteem in which they are held by the public and armed with unique insights into the societal benefits of investing in research. View photos of the dedication ceremony here and our statement here.
The recently released House majority’s budget, “Path to Prosperity” authored by Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, is a tragic misnomer. American prosperity — along with such signs of a highly civilized nation as a sound public health system, up-to-date infrastructure, robust scientific capacity, a success-driven educational system and a commitment to medical progress — would be nothing but a fond memory if this 10-year budget is adopted. The budget sets funding levels that are grossly insufficient to fuel American innovation and retain global economic leadership. Click here to urge your representative to fight for American priorities and reject the House majority’s budget.
One of the ironies of the Ryan budget is that it flies in the face of vocal bipartisan support for medical research. During recent hearings, the House and Senate appropriations committees expressed such support, but support without resources is like a lake without water. Is it still a lake? As we shared last week, Research!America has weighed in during the appropriations process with testimony urging that NIH, CDC and AHRQ be allocated the funding needed to meet their respective missions. This week we did the same for NSF. Our nation has always been a leader, not a follower, when it comes to scientific exploration and the economic strength that flows from it. We are, to put it bluntly, squandering our advantage.
Retaining that advantage is one of the many reasons Research!America is launching an expanded national voter education initiative, Ask Your Candidates! Is Medical Research a Priority? for the 2014 elections. The goal is to empower voters around the nation to determine whether candidates for federal office share their views on the priority of medical progress. In this case, knowledge is not only power, it is a life-preserver. If Americans do not elect leaders willing to stand up for medical progress, our nation should prepare to stand down against deadly and costly health threats and its global economic competitors. For more information about Ask Your Candidates!, don’t hesitate to contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
As you may recall from last week’s letter, Mary Woolley is attending an international conference this week, followed by a well-deserved sabbatical. During the next few months, members of Research!America’s management team will guest-author this letter. Today’s author is Research!America’s chief operating officer, Mike Coburn.