John Feehery: Speaking Engagements


Anxiety and NIH

Posted on July 6, 2015
NIH Clinical Research Center aerial.jpg

"NIH Clinical Research Center aerial" by NIH - Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

ISIS? The Greek Crisis?   A nuclear Iran?   Jennifer and Ben divorcing?


What really causes anxiety among the American people is the fear that they are going to get Alzheimer’s.

And with more and more Baby boomers (as well as millennials) slated to live to one hundred, this is not some idle concern.   The Washington Post had an interesting story on Independence Day about the lengths folks go to avoid the dreaded disease.
A Harris Poll conducted in April for Aegis Living, an assisted-living and Alzheimer’s care company, found that the worries cross all generations: more than 75 percent of millennials, Generation Xers and baby boomers worry about what will happen to their memory as they age.

The fact is that nobody wants to get Alzheimer’s, but once they get it, they are stuck with it.   And once they are stuck with it, they are stuck with it for life, a life that robs the mind, but leaves the rest of the body largely alone.

We are making some progress on researching a cure for the disease and many other diseases. 60 Minutes had a story last night about some of those cures that have sprung from the Human Genome project.

The effort to crack the genetic code was initially funded when Congress, led by Newt Gingrich, doubled the funding for the National Institutes for Health.

NIH does remarkable work in doing the basic research that leads to big breakthroughs. The problem is that over the last decade NIH funding has basically stayed flat.

Policy makers want to break the logjam to get more funding. The Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee that overseas the funding (Roy Blunt) wants to get more resources to the agency, as does his counterpart in the House (Tom Cole).

And they will do their level-best with their meager budget allocations to boost funding for NIH as they cut funding in other places.

But there is only so much they can do. Discretionary spending has steadily declined as a percentage of the federal budget, pretty much since Medicare was signed into in the early 1960’s. As entitlement spending and interest payments have eaten up more and more of the budget pie, the non-entitlement side has struggled to keep up. That is especially true of domestic discretionary spending.

Enter Fred Upton, the Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Upton has found a way to break the impasse. Upton has created legislation – the 21st Century Cures Act -- working assiduously with conservatives on his right and liberals on his left, to greatly increase funding for NIH without adding to the deficit.

He has also placated the poobahs of the Appropriations Committee by creating a mechanism that authorizes the spending with his Authorizing committee, gives the spending committee the authority to direct the money themselves, while finding ways to pay for it through fees and spending cuts that are outside the authority of the Appropriations Committee.

This is a big deal. Hal Rogers, the Appropriations Committee Chairman, called it “revolutionary”, according to the National Journal.

Of course, 21st Century Cures doesn’t make everybody happy.  No legislation in Washington accomplishes that. In this case, it’s the House Budget Committee Chairman who is not happy. He is not comfortable that authorizers and appropriators are getting together, cutting deals and making things happen outside the jurisdiction of the Budget Committee.

He is making claims that Upton’s bill will bust the budget. It is true that CBO said it would cost more than a hundred billion dollars in the first four years, but what CBO didn’t take into account is that in the out years, those outlays would largely be recouped.   While it won’t bust the budget, it might bust the Budget Committee, by creating a precedent that allows authorizes and appropriators to make laws without checking with the budgeteers.

But in my humble opinion, Committee jurisdictional issues are not nearly as important as finding a cure for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, cancer and all of the other diseases that will cost the American family trillions of dollars in the coming gray years.

Increasing funding for Medical research is a no-brainer for Congressional Republicans   Fred Upton deserves great credit for pushing this “revolutionary” approach to the House floor. Let’s hope the House passes it and the Senate takes it up soon.

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