President Trump outlined a 5.8 billion dollar cut to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in his 2018 budget request in May. Understanding the implication of this announcement requires some historical context as well as appreciation for the three branches of the United States (US) government and their functions in budget appropriations.
Let’s start with some numbers with respect to worldwide R&D expenditures:
- The US spends more annually on R&D than any other country in the world (over 470 billion dollars in 2016).
- By gross domestic product, the US ranks eleventh behind Israel, South Korea, Japan, Finland, Sweden, Austria, Denmark, Taiwan, Switzerland, and Germany for R&D spending.
- By population, the US ranks sixth in R&D spending.
- The NIH is the largest source of funding for medical research in the world.
- US health funding has waivered in recent years.
Health research has bipartisan support with both republicans and democrats working together frequently to support budget increases:
- Funding for the National Cancer Moonshot Initiative was secured December 2016 when the republican controlled US Senate approved $1.8 billion in supplemental funding over seven years to fund Moonshot projects and initiatives.
- Notably, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Republican from Kentucky) announced that the bill would be named for Former Vice President Joe Biden’s late son, Beau Biden.
- Congressman Kevin Yoder (Republican from Kansas) at the American Association of Cancer Research Annual Meeting in April 2017 said: “we are unified in our quest to go to war on cancer and to cure this disease and treat this disease coupled with innovative ways to solve this disease in as many ways as possible. We know that the federal government plays a key role in that, so with the Moonshot and with the work all these men and women are doing, and all that you are doing, we are here to be your ally and to let you know that support will continue to be there regardless of who operates the White House.”
- At the same meeting, Former Vice President Joe Biden said that he didn’t believe that the proposed budget would not pass Congress and never be enacted into law. His full remarks can be watched here.
Where do we stand right now?
Last Friday, Congress voted for an increase in research funding by 2.6%. Most of this funding is earmarked for health and defense research. The National Science Foundation will be cut by 2%. The Senate and House have until December 8 to agree on a final spending bill.