April 10, 2013
Cancer Research Proves Vulnerable to Budget Cuts
March gave us a clear sign of just how vulnerable cancer research is during a time of fiscal austerity.
Just days before Congress left for the Easter/Passover break, the House and Senate finally reached agreement on legislation to keep government programs operating through September 30-- the end of the federal fiscal year.
Under the legislation, federal programs would be held to last year’s spending levels, minus an across-the-board cut (called sequestration) of about five percent. That cut, which took effect on March 1, slashed funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) by $1.5 billion, including a more than $250 million reduction to cancer research funding. As bad as this sounds, there were proposals on the table to reduce funding even further, proposals which we joined our partners in the One Voice Against Cancer Coalition to fight back.
Clearly, the fight against cancer will be dealt a major setback if these cuts are allowed to stand and we are continuing our strong push to reinstate the funding from these cuts.
Discretionary programs, including NIH, have already borne more than their fair share of cuts—over $1 trillion since deficit reduction efforts began almost three years ago. While to some a five percent cut may not seem like a lot, keep in mind that this comes on top of nearly a decade of stagnant funding that has caused NIH to lose an estimated $5.5 billion (nearly 20 percent) in purchasing power because funding has not kept pace with the rate of biomedical inflation.
More threats on the horizon
Later in March, lawmakers turned their attention to 2014 by passing overall spending plans that threaten to continue the downward trajectory in medical research.
Following a marathon 13-hour debate on March 23, the Senate passed, 50 – 49, a spending plan that would cut spending by $975 billion over the next decade, including $142 billion from nondefense programs, like medical research, education and employment training. During debate, the Senate approved an amendment sponsored by Senators Durbin (D-IL), Moran (R-KS), Mikulski (D-MD) and Cardin (D-MD) that would set a framework for increasing funding for the NIH in the future. While this would not guarantee an increase in NIH funding, it sends a strong signal that Senate lawmakers consider medical research a top priority. It is up to us—the pancreatic cancer research community—to ensure that additional funds flow to this important goal.
The Senate-passed bill is vastly different than the spending plan approved by the House a week earlier, which would cut $1.1 trillion from nondefense programs over the next 10 years.
Neither spending plan specifies from where these cuts should come—the details will be left to the Appropriations Committees of Congress to decide later this year. The competition for scarce resources will be fierce, so that means it will be up to us to advocate strong and loud for cancer research.
In the meantime, President Obama has sent Congress his budget proposal calling for a slight increase in spending for NIH, to $31.2 billion from the $30.7 billion level two years ago.
Under the president’s proposal, the National Cancer Institute's funding would be $5.13 billion, or only about $60 million more than it was two years ago. As in past years, that is less than the rise in medical research inflation.
While the FY14 spending bills are being debated in the next five months, we will be continuing our call to Congress to re-instate the cuts. Just last week, we took a leadership role in supporting the Rally for Medical Research, a nation-wide event that brought together over 200 organizations to urge Congress to make lifesaving medical and cancer research funding a national priority. Please visit our Action Center to learn how you can help in this effort and don’t forget to register for the Pancreatic Cancer Advocacy Day!
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