Lydia Polimeni/National Institutes of Health

Another Step Forward for National Institutes of Health Funding

A House panel signed off on a $1.25 billion boost for the health agency, less than the Senate’s $2 billion allocation.

Following in their Senate colleagues’ footsteps, a House subcommittee signed off on a budget increase for the National Institutes of Health Thursday. The increases for fiscal-year 2017 confirm lawmakers’ public pledges to establish a pattern of improved budgets for the agency, which before last year saw more than a decade of flat funding. 

The House figure—$1.25 billion, for a total agency budget of $33.3 billion—is lower than the Senate’s $2 billion allocation, and lawmakers will eventually negotiate a final budget number in the months to come. But Representative Tom Cole, who heads the labor and health and human services subcommittee that proposed the increase, said he’s willing to go higher. “I view the mark we set forth today as a floor, not as a ceiling, for biomedical-research funding, and I’m hopeful this number can increase as the process moves forward,” Cole said.

It wouldn’t be the first time House lawmakers agreed to a higher figure for the NIH. For fiscal-year 2016, the House originally proposed a $1.1 billion increase, but the Senate’s $2 billion proposal is what the NIH received.

The subcommittee’s proposed budget, which it released Wednesday, also includes dedicated increases for the Obama administration’s BRAIN Initiative and Alzheimer’s disease research; about $580 million to fight the opioid epidemic; and money to combat Zika—which is notable as legislators have been fighting over Zika funding since winter, when President Obama first requested $1.9 billion for research and other measures. As Morning Consult reports:

The [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] would also receive $390 million for the Zika virus. House Republicans have advocated for responding to the virus through the appropriations process, though a $1.1 billion deal in currently stalled in the Senate. The bill also proposes $300 million for a new Infectious Diseases Rapid Response Reserve Fund, which would allow the CDC director to immediately access money during a public health crisis.

Aware that Zika funding had languished in Congress for months, Cole had previously promised dedicated Zika money in his subcommittee’s bill. And though he made good on that promise, Democrats don’t think any of the Republican-backed measures for Zika are enough, and they disagree with moving Zika funding through the appropriations process and not marking it as emergency funding. Nevertheless, as STAT reports, some top Democrats support the reserve fund at least, because it “could help prevent future standoffs” over funding allocations.

Lawmakers politely argued over the specifics on Zika funding during the meeting, and Democrats seemed generally dissatisfied with the budget bill, which Ranking Member Rosa DeLauro said includes “devastating cuts” to educational and family-planning programs, among others, and continues to block gun-violence research at the CDC. But when it came to funding the NIH, which currently has broad bipartisan support, lawmakers really had nothing to debate about.