If the White House has its way, in 2018, 5.8 billion dollars will disappear from the budget of the National Institutes of Health—the largest funder of biomedical research in the U.S. That cut, which was revealed as part of President Trump’s budget proposal last Tuesday, represents 18 percent of the NIH’s budget. It has been described as “a significant blow to medical research” that would “set off a lost generation in American science.”
It’s also unlikely to actually happen.
“Presidential budgets are a statement of presidential priorities but Congress makes the decision—and there’s strong bipartisan support for the NIH,” says Tom Cole, a Republican congressman from Oklahoma, and chair of the House subcommittee that oversees the NIH’s budget. That support was evident earlier this month, when Congress totally ignored Trump’s proposal to slice $1.2 billion from the NIH for fiscal year 2017, and instead awarded the agency an extra $2 billion. “This is the second year in a row that NIH has received a substantial increase, and the intention of Congress is that that continue,” says Cole.
A $2 billion windfall is clearly better than a $1.2 billion shortfall, but that extra bolus of money is not the obvious bonanza that it seems. Congress may be holding back the Trump administration’s desire to cut funding for scientific research, but the threat of such cuts still looms. And in that atmosphere of uncertainty, it’s hard for agencies like the NIH to work out how to effectively channel money into research.