We have a budget! NIH and NSF see increases


At the same time that the congressional, senatorial, and presidential elections were taking place, Congress was able to complete its work on a federal budget for FY21. In the hours following Election Day as the effort to overturn the Presidential election began, it appeared that the federal budget might be sidelined, causing the government to shut down in the middle of a pandemic. But the nation escaped that fate, and the approved budget includes increases for both the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF).

For most of 2020, Congress focused on providing Americans with massive amounts of federal support to allow the U.S. economy to survive the lockdown necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic. This resulted in significant amounts of money being poured into the NIH, primarily for COVID-19–related research, and this increased spending was carried over thru FY24. In the end, the budget for the whole NIH for FY21 is set at $43.68 billion. This is $2 billion more than the FY20 budget. The 2.56% increase in the NIH budget, while smaller than previous increases, is, once again, significantly higher than the budget proposed by the Trump administration, which asked for a cut of 7.55% for FY21. 

As rightly pointed out in Senate documents regarding the NIH budget, in the five budgets since Republicans gained the majority in the Senate, the budget for the NIH has increased by 45%, or $13.6 billion. This is not an anomaly. Historically, budgets for the NIH do better under Republican majorities primarily because Republicans support fewer programs within the annual Departments of Labor, Health & Human Services, and Education Appropriations bill, which funds the NIH. Democrats, on the other hand, support more of the programs within the bill, spreading the funds more thinly.  

When the Trump administration submitted its FY21 budget request, it also asked for a 6.5% cut to the NSF FY21 budget. The final congressionally approved NSF budget will provide the agency with a 3% increase for a total budget of $8.5 billion.  

About the Author:

Kevin M. Wilson serves as Director of Public Policy and Media Relations for The American Society for Cell Biology. He's worked as the Legislative Director for U.S. Congressman Robert Weygand (D-RI) and as a Legislative Assistant for U.S. Senator Claiborne Pell (D-RI). He has a BA in Politics and American Government from the Catholic University of America. Email: kwilson@ascb.org