NIH, VA Research Poised to Win in 2016 Budget

On November 2, 2015, President Barack Obama signed into law the Bipartisan Budget Act, a top ASN policy priority that opens the door for a funding increase for kidney research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The act raises the overall federal discretionary spending levels for 2016 and 2017. However, Congress still needs to pass a budget for 2016 that details exactly how much funding all the federal agencies—including NIH and the VA—can spend.

Congress avoided a government shutdown at the start of the 2016 fiscal year by passing a short-term appropriations bill that funds the government until December 11. Congress must pass another funding bill to avoid a government shutdown by December 11; they can either enact another short-term appropriations bill or an appropriations bill that funds the government through the end of the 2016 fiscal year.

“The Bipartisan Budget Act was a victory, but it is not complete until Congress passes a year-long 2016 budget that increases federal funding for NIH and VA research,” Frank “Chip” Brosius, MD, ASN Research Advocacy Committee Chair commented. “I urge lawmakers to work together to ensure these programs have the resources everyone broadly agrees are needed. The US scientific workforce, research enterprise, and patients depend on it.”

Given the widespread bipartisan support NIH and VA research enjoys, as well as the recognition that NIH and VA research is underfunded, expectations are that lawmakers will boost funding for the programs. However, Democrats are threatening to oppose 2016 budget bills that include ideological policy riders—controversial provisions that would not pass as their own bills—such as limits on US Environmental Protection Agency regulations under the Clean Air and Water acts.

If Congress is able to pass a budget for all of 2016, it is especially likely that NIH and VA kidney research would benefit. Both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees’ 2016 budget proposals would raise funding for NIH, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), and VA research. Under the House proposal, NIH and NIDDK would see increases of 5.9% and 1.71%, respectively. Under the Senate proposal, NIH and NIDDK would receive increases of 8.96% and 2.85%, respectively. The House and Senate proposals would increase VA research by 5.6% and 7.08%, respectively (Table 1).

Table 1

If Congress does not pass a budget bill by December 11, a government shutdown would bring significant consequences for some researchers. During the last shutdown in 2013, which lasted 16 days, research programs that are funded through annual appropriations were affected. NIH, for instance, was unable to fund new grants and contracts during that time. ASN has been urging lawmakers to come to agreement, support medical research and other important public health programs, and avert a government shutdown.

ASN budget advocacy

ASN has been actively campaigning for NIH and VA budget increases, along with the Coalition for Health Funding, the coalition NDD United, and Friends of VA Medical Care and Health Research. The society met with 57 congressional offices during ASN Kidney Health Advocacy Day in April 2015 and organized Kidney Community Advocacy Day, which brought together 16 kidney patient and health professional organizations this past September for 112 congressional office meetings.

ASN has also organized and participated in congressional briefings. ASN sponsored a Coalition for Health Funding and Congressional Public Health Caucus Leadership briefing on November 18. Benjamin L. Margolis, MD, a nephrologist at the University of Michigan, spoke to a packed audience about the impact of federal austerity on his own research, as well as the future of medical research and healthcare.

“Due to the current funding environment, we are at risk of losing a whole generation of scientists and severely impairing our ability to respond to the country’s healthcare needs in the future,” Dr. Margolis said. Research yields critical new therapies patients desperately need and helps our economy. Investing more in medical research is smart for patients and smart for our country.”

What’s next?

The budget battles do not end with passage of the 2016 budget. The Bipartisan Budget Act only provides budget relief in 2016 and 2017, but federal austerity measures capped federal discretionary spending through 2021. ASN will continue to work with stakeholders in the kidney and research communities to campaign for budget relief in years 2018 to 2021, as well as steady and sustained funding increases for NIH, NIDDK, and VA research.