The GOP Wants to Restore NIH Funding: Should Obama Allow It?

For now, the White House and Democrats are saying no.

As I noted yesterday, one of the more appalling casualties of the government shutdown has been funding for the National Institutes for Health, which has had to start turning away the roughly 200 patients, including children with cancer, who come to it each week for treatment in clinical trials. This is obviously a PR problem for the Republican Party. So as part of its strategy of pushing bills that would selectively fund discrete, visible, and popular pieces of the government, such as the District of Columbia and the National Park Service, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor has also proposed restoring the NIH budget. 

This is not sitting well with the Democrats. Per The Wall Street Journal today

"I would like to guarantee that the people who are suffering, not getting treatment at the NIH could be answered tomorrow," Mr. Cantor said in a statement. "For the Democrats to say we're going to play a political game and we're not going to help those kids — we're really tired of playing games."

Democrats rejected the approach.

"It's time for Republicans to stop throwing one crazy idea after another at the wall, in hopes that something will stick," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) said when the Senate opened on Wednesday. "Nothing is stuck. There's been a sensible plan to reopen the government right in front of House Republicans all along."

Meanwhile, Cantor tweeted out the president's official veto threat:

Cantor knows something about "playing political games" -- we're talking about a shutdown triggered by 30 to 40 conservatives in the House who have decided to take the government hostage in an attempt to undermine the Affordable Care Act.

It's not in the country's long-term interest to fund government on a line-by-line basis depending on what public-service deficiencies are getting the most headlines. That makes government shutdown seem like a palatable alternative to government and rewards brinksmanship, which could draw out negotiations. Obama has already signed a bill to specially pay for the military. Sick patients are a special case, as well. In this specific instance, we're talking about crucial research that could save lives.

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Jordan Weissmann is a senior associate editor at The Atlantic.

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