PLAN TO INCREASE SCIENCE FUNDING
As Dr. Harold Varmus, Director of the National Institutes of Health, looked on from his seat next to the First Lady at the State of the Union address on January 27, President Clinton announced a new plan to boost funding for civilian research and development (R&D). Describing it as a “gift to the millennium,” the President proposed “a 21st Century Research Fund for path-breaking scientific inquiry—the largest funding increase in history for the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and the National Cancer Institute.”
The President’s announcement follows close on the heels of other recent proposals from Members of Congress to promote nondefense research, particularly in the biomedical arena. Last May, the Senate passed a resolution introduced by Sen. Connie Mack (R-FL) stating that the federal support for biomedical research should double over the next five years. Later in 1997, Sen. Phil Gramm (R-TX) and Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) introduced the National Research Investment Act (S. 1305), a bill to double nondefense basic research over the next ten years. Rep. Joseph Kennedy (D-MA) plans to offer similar legislation on the House side early in this session.
The specifics of the President’s proposed research fund were fleshed out in the FY 1999 budget request that was submitted to the Congress early in February. The Research Fund for America is one of three special funds established in the budget (the other two are for transportation and environmental resources). The Research Fund includes a set of domestic discretionary programs from several different R&D agencies which received a total of $28.9 billion in FY 1998. The Fund would increase the programs’ funding by eight percent to $31.1 billion. Only $27.1 billion of these funds, less than the FY 1998 level, come from regular discretionary spending within the existing caps. The remaining $4 billion, essentially all of the requested increase for nondefense R&D, will be provided by receipts from a tobacco settlement.
Almost half of the dollars from the proposed Research Fund are directed
at health-related science and technology. The Administration is proposing
a five-year plan to increase the NIH research budget by almost 50 percent.
Within that, funding for the National Cancer Institute would go up by 65
percent, reflecting the critical role of the tobacco settlement to the
Funding questions aside, President Clinton’s State of the Union speech
and the budget request clearly established that funding for science is
rightfully a concern for all Americans and set it as a national priority
for this congressional session. With the stage already set by science-boosting
legislation, his comments haven’t fallen on deaf ears.