Consider it progress but many in Congress are coming around to the idea that the current system for funding the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) and other federal science programs isn't working. Getting everyone on the Hill to agree what should be done to protect research funding is another matter. Now, one senator has come up with a daring new idea on how to shelter biomedical research funding from the budgetary hurricanes blowing through both chambers.
Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) has just introduced a bill, the American Cures Act, to shift the bulk of the responsibility for funding four federal research agencies, including the NIH, away from the annual appropriations bills to a trust fund created specifically for research funding. The agencies covered by the bill are the NIH, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Department of Defense Health Program, and the Department of Veterans Affairs' Medical and Prosthetics Program. The trust fund would be similar to the Federal Highway Trust Fund, which receives funding from a cents per gallon gas tax to fund road construction around the United States.
The Durbin bill, if passed, would provide additional funding for the agencies beyond the amount each receives in the annual congressional appropriations process to ensure that each agency is funded at 5% above the annual gross domestic product. Estimates are that the Durbin bill would double the budget for the NIH in 10 years.
The bill is not all blue skies. Policy analysts say that there are chinks in this budgetary roof, which could widen over time, leading to a biomedical funding washout. The ASCB is currently working with Senator Durbin's staff to shore up the legislation. At the very least, it shows that at least one member of Congress is willing to do something different about long-term climate change, at least in the biomedical research world.