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Gingrich calls on Congress to double NIH budget

REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
Newt Gingrich: “By funding basic medical research, Congress can transform our fiscal health, and our personal health, too.”

In an op-ed published Wednesday in the New York Times, former Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich calls on Congress to double the budget of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

“We are in a time of unimaginable scientific and technological progress,” he writes. “By funding basic medical research, Congress can transform our fiscal health, and our personal health, too.”

Yes, yes, some of you readers on the political left may be rolling your eyes at this moment as you remember Gingrich’s zealous ideological dedication to slashing government spending and gutting federal agencies back in the 1990s.

But Gingrich has actually been a long-time champion of the NIH.

“When House Republicans took power in 1995 determined to cut spending in a battle that shut down the U.S. government, [Gingrich] was persuaded to spare the National Institutes of Health [and] he later supported a bipartisan move to double the research center’s funding over five years,” writes Bloomberg reporter Catherine Dodge.  

‘Irresponsible and shortsighted’

As Gingrich points out in his op-ed, the NIH budget was about $30 billion last year — some 20 percent lower (after inflation) than it was a decade ago. As a result, about 12.5 percent fewer NIH-funded research grants were awarded in 2014 than in 2003, while grant applications have risen by almost 50 percent.

“It’s irresponsible and shortsighted, not prudent, to let financing for basic research dwindle,” Gingrich writes. He explains why:

N.I.H. is spending just $1.3 billion a year on Alzheimer’s and dementia research — or roughly 0.8 percent of the $154 billion these conditions will cost Medicare and Medicaid this year, more than all federal education spending.

Alzheimer’s isn’t unique: Diabetes, kidney disease, heart disease, cancer, stroke and arthritis all cost enormous sums and cause incredible suffering. But the promise of breakthrough cures and treatments for this disease is amazing. The N.I.H. is funding a clinical study that represents a potential paradigm shift in treatment. Rather than try to eliminate the buildup of plaques in the brain after the onset of dementia, researchers are studying interventions in families with a genetic predisposition to early onset Alzheimer’s to prevent the disease before symptoms even develop.

The N.I.H. is also pioneering the development of immunotherapies, which are already allowing doctors to spur patients’ immune systems to attack cancer and other diseases rather than relying solely on surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. The N.I.H. recently discovered a vaccine that appears to cure an AIDS-like virus in monkeys. The insights from genetics, personalized medicine and regenerative therapies could potentially lead to substantially longer and healthier lives for many. But to achieve that promise will require a greater budget.

Easy to say, harder to do

In his op-ed, Gingrich names several members of Congress, including Republicans, who are actively proposing increased NIH funding for basic science research.

But, as Huffington Post reporter Sam Stein noted last month when a committee in the Republican-led House voted against increasing NIH funding, while “it’s easy [for Congress] to commit to a plush, well-funded NIH; it’s harder to agree on ways to get there.”

Stein reiterated that observation in a column yesterday:

For all the pro-spending vibes [in Congress], … the mood within the science research community could be described, most generously, as cautiously optimistic. Republicans control both chambers of Congress, and their budgets include such dramatic reductions in discretionary spending that, absent some other agencies taking huge cuts, the NIH won’t see much more money next fiscal year. President Barack Obama can change that with a tough negotiating line — which he has pledged to take — but that likely would yield only a modest uptick in funding.

The best hope for a major investment likely would come from outside the budget process. And there are a few pieces of stand-alone legislation that seem promising to the advocacy community. But the same obstacles remain. More Republicans are speaking out in favor of NIH funding, but the clear majority of them will demand that it be offset with cuts elsewhere. And that, in turn, doesn’t leave much room for operating.

You can read Gingrich’s op-ed on the New York Times’ website.

Comments (3)

  1. Submitted by Edward Blaise on 04/23/2015 - 12:45 pm.

    Unbelievable…

    Anyone ever venture to the Camp Coldwater Spring between Minnehaha Falls and Fort Snelling? It was recently cleaned up and replanted by the NPS, From the late 90s to 2013 it was a poster child for Newt style budget slashing. The site contained the Bureau of Mines Research Center. A sizeable collection of 1950ish buildings (think your average Jr. High School) that upon Newt defunding in 1995 the government simply walked away from. They were quickly overrun by vandals, vagrants, graffiti artists ( http://tcur.org/?p=191 ) until they had been beaten down to destruction being the only answer in 2013. No private citizen or company would be allowed to abandon and allow such disrepair on private property and no private citizen or company would be so shortsighted as to do so. Nice to see the new Newt. Maybe he can share his enlightenment with his fellow travelers.

  2. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 04/24/2015 - 08:38 am.

    Newt always liked to say that he wasn’t anti-government, he was pro-freedom. Virtually all of his ideas had to do with using government resources more effectively and efficiently, which wasn’t good enough for most of us “movement conservatives.”

    But he never gets credit for being the author of two straight balanced budgets. Bill Clinton takes credit for signing Newt’s legislation but he had to be dragged kicking and screaming to the signing table. Yet he’ll be the first one today to take credit for balancing the budget and the press let’s him.

    • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 04/29/2015 - 10:39 pm.

      Come on DT

      The Pres takes the hit when it goes wrong, should take the credit when it goes right. Don’t care who. Can’t we give the the grump everything blame somebody factor a rest.

      Newt made a good point. And his party disagrees.

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