Prospects for NIH and Kidney Research Funding in the New Congress

The dust is still settling from the election of November 4, 2014, when Republicans gained control of both chambers of Congress. Whether a Republican Congress and a Democratic administration can work together to address the many domestic and foreign challenges confronting the country today is one of the biggest questions as we head into 2015.

One thing most Democrats and Republicans agree on, though, is that medical research is one of the smartest investments the United States can make. Funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the global leader in medical research, creates jobs, drives the economy, and most importantly leads to new discoveries that improve patient care. Unfortunately, sustained budget cuts since 2010 are jeopardizing this country’s research enterprise.

Despite the general support for medical research among Republicans and Democrats, their hands are tied by the Budget Control Act of 2011 and the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013, which imposed strict budget caps as part of efforts to curb the federal deficit and debt. Unless Congress raises the caps or rescinds those laws—and given the makeup of the new Congress that starts on January 3, 2015, it is hard to imagine a scenario for that happening—then additional funding for the NIH would come at the cost of funding for other federal programs.

Moreover, the United States is projected to hit the debt ceiling (the total amount of debt this country can accumulate) again in April 2015, further complicating efforts to increase federal spending. Republicans will likely call for more budget cuts in exchange for raising the debt ceiling. Despite the challenging times, some bold leaders have come forward to call for doubling the NIH’s budget.

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) recently announced that it is one of his priorities. In October 2013, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) said that those who say we cannot afford to double investments for the NIH “… are wrong. Research creates economic growth. It reduces health care costs. It creates a better life for our people. And yet, the success rate for NIH grants has dropped by nearly 50 percent over the past 10 years. That makes no sense. There is good work to be done—work to save lives and work to boost our economy. We cannot afford not to increase our investments in medical research.”

The American Society of Nephrology (ASN) applauds the leadership of Senators Blunt and Warren and will work with them and the new majority in the Senate to advance funding for the NIH and other research agencies in 2015. The society will also continue working with the research community to implement the society’s aggressive new Research Strategic Plan to bolster support for more kidney research funding.

Two research efforts that ASN supports and helped to shape are making their way through Congress: a comprehensive kidney care bill advanced by Kidney Care Partners—a broad coalition of the kidney community, including ASN, dedicated to advancing patient care—and the 21st Century Cures initiative to identify steps for accelerating the pace of cures and medical breakthroughs in the United States.

Stay tuned: the ASN will need your help calling on Congress to urge support for research funding during the spring budget season.