From the start, it didn’t seem likely Republican lawmakers would agree with President Trump’s proposed cuts to the National Institutes of Health. Even some of the most conservative legislators had worked in recent years to increase the agency’s funding, and the White House figures represented a dramatic reversal of that effort.
With the release of their budget agreement for 2017, lawmakers have demonstrated how little they cared for the administration’s plans for NIH. The omnibus, which spells out funding between now and the end of this fiscal year, allocates an additional $2 billion to the agency. That figure represents a rebuke of the president’s cuts. But it also lets lawmakers continue to do what they wanted all along: to replace a recent pattern of boom-and-bust funding with steady funding increases year after year.
Trump’s numbers were never going to be final, as Congress holds the purse strings of the federal government and presidential budgets aren’t often taken as gospel. Yet the cuts were nevertheless unnerving to the biomedical-research community, whose livelihoods, work product, and ability to recruit and retain scientists depend on NIH. Between two White House spending proposals released this spring—notably the 2018 “skinny budget”—the agency would have seen its budget cut by roughly $7 billion. Trump proposed slicing $1.2 billion for fiscal year 2017—primarily from research grants—and an additional $5.8 billion in the next fiscal year. The latter reduction in particular would have significantly hampered the agency’s ability to finance science around the world; it represents nearly 20 percent of the total NIH budget.