The House begins consideration of HR 6 the 21st Century CURES Act today (Thursday July 9th) This bill has bipartisan support and would establish an $8.75 billion Innovation Fund to provide NIH with an additional $1.75 billion a year and the FDA an additional $110 million for the next five years. The money for this Innovation Fund currently would come from mandatory spending instead of discretionary spending, which can get lost in the annual budget fights. The House Energy and Commerce Committee has already identified money for this fund from profits from selling some oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (see this FAQ for an explanation of the funding) and the Congressional Budget Office has estimated that this bill will reduce the federal deficit by more than $500 million over the next 10 years.
Rep. Dave Brat (R-VA) plans to offer an amendment to make the NIH Innovation Fund come from discretionary funding. Since this would defeat the purpose of the Innovation Fund, please ask your Representative to oppose Amendment #29 to the 21st Century Cures Act.
You can find your Representative’s number here: http://www.house.gov/representatives/
Below is a sample script written by the American Physiological Society’s Science Policy Office:
Congressional offices expect to get phone calls from constituents expressing views for and against pending legislation. Therefore, you can explain the reason for your call to the receptionist.
WHAT TO SAY:
“My name is ___________, and I am a constituent of Rep. ________.”
“I support the 21st Century Cures Act because it will increase funding for life-saving biomedical research at the NIH. The bill is H.R. 6.
“Please ask Rep.______ to oppose Brat amendment #29 because it will undermine the Innovation Fund that is meant to help NIH meet crucial health challenges.”
Further talking points are provided below, but please call TODAY.
MORE REASONS TO SUPPORT THE BILL:
- Provides funding for life saving research and treatment and contributes to the economic engine of research and development
- Identifies funding to “offset” the cost of the Innovation Fund and reduces the federal deficit by more than $500 million over the next 10 years (according to the Congressional Budget Office)
- Maintains the Appropriations Committees as gatekeepers to set funding levels annually for biomedical priorities
For more about the bill, see the House Energy and Commerce committee’s website http://energycommerce.house.gov/cures.)
Now is the time of year that the Appropriations Committees in Congress are starting to draft the budgets for FY 2016. Individual member requests for funding can be influential in setting the final appropriations request, so now is a good time to contact your representatives and voice your support for increased federal science funding. Currently there is a ‘Dear Colleague’ letter circulating in the House requesting an $32B for NIH and $7.72B for NSF. You can use FASEB’s action center to send an email to your House Reps asking them to show their support for increased federal investment in science by signing the Dear Colleague letter. Tomorrow members from the Society for Neuroscience will be on Capitol Hill meeting with legislators to ask for a 10% increase in NIH funding. You can contribute to their effort virtually by sending emails to your legislators through their action center.
Last year I attended the SfN Hill Day, which was an experience I’ll never forget. Many societies organize Hill Days for their members and it is a great way to make sure that your legislators hear about the value of federal science funding. It also gives you a firsthand glimpse into our political process. If you are an early career member of Society for Neuroscience or the American Physiological Society you should check out their policy fellowships.
The continuing resolution currently funding the government expires on December 11th. Draft bills increasing federal science funding have been approved by both the Senate and House Appropriations, but have yet to be considered by the full Congress. Please write to your representatives urging them to pass an omnibus spending bill in the next few weeks.
Link to the FASEB Action Alert Page where you can contact your legislators
As mentioned in the last post, the House passed HR 5056, the Research and Development Efficiency Act. This bill would decrease the regulatory burden on universities and investigators. Contact your senators and ask them to pass this bill before the end of the Congressional session.
Link to the FASEB Action Alert Page where you can contact your senators
Starting in January both the Senate and House will be under Republican control. Historically, this result was no surprise. Since WWII all presidents in their second term have faced a Senate of the opposite party. One of the biggest questions on my mind is what will a Republican controlled Senate mean for science policy? Sadly I don’t have a crystal ball, but I’ve tried to summarize some potentially good and bad news for the coming Congress. For even more information about this topic, I highly recommend Science Magazine’s After Election 2014 series.
Recently a few bills offering ways to stabilize and grow the NIH budget, including the Accelerating Biomedical Research Act and the American Cures Act, have been introduced in Congress. In a Republican Congress these bills have little chance of passing, but there is some hope a bipartisan bill sponsored by Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) may have more luck. The Invest for Healthy Futures Act provides an incentive for lawmakers to fund 5 federal research agencies (NIH, CDC, FDA, BARDA, and AHRQ) at least at the previous year’s level plus biomedical inflation. The funds for this bill are offset by cuts elsewhere, which is potentially attractive to conservative lawmakers. Senator Hatch is currently the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee and is a likely choice for the Chairmanship, which could also help the bill’s prospects.
There is some hope that Congress may act on streamlining the regulatory burden on grants administration and reporting. The House passed the bipartisan Research and Development Efficiency Act in July that aims to allow researchers to spend more time actually doing science and less time on administrative tasks. This bill is championed by Representative Bucshon (R-IN), the chair of the House’s Science Committee Research Panel. As with everything, the devil is in the details and it is unclear exactly what regulations will be altered if this bill passes the full Congress. For more information on this issue, I highly recommend this Science Magazine piece by David Malakoff.
Action on Climate Change
One of the more disturbing effects of the election for science is the change in leadership in the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works. The current Chair is Barbara Boxer (D-CA), a strong supporter of environmental protections. The ranking Republican on the Committee is James Inhofe (R-OK), a climate change skeptic who has literally written a book arguing that position (The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future). The last time he chaired this committee, Inhofe frequently invited ‘experts‘ with dubious qualifications to argue against action on climate change. The scientific evidence is overwhelming that man-made climate change is occurring, the only controversy is how severe the effects will be and how much we need to curb emissions to prevent the most disastrous effects. Wasting time arguing over whether climate change is occurring will only hurt our country in the long run. To end the post on a slightly lighter note, I’ll leave you with coverage of this issue by the Colbert Report and Last Week Tonight.
Last week a SJSU student from my lab, Anusha Allawala, and I had the opportunity to meet with Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren and a staff member at her San Jose District office. Members of Congress spend the summer recess in their home districts and unless you live near DC this is often the easiest time to meet with them in person. I had no idea how accessible elected officials actually are until this past year. Members of Congress and their staff spend a large portion of their time meeting with and listening to their constituents and this is one way that you can help ensure that the issue you are passionate about is on their radar. To set up this meeting I emailed the staffer in charge of scheduling (you can find this online or ask your professional society’s advocacy office for help). Even though I waited until early August when her schedule was already full to request the meeting, I was offered a cancellation spot and was still able to get a 20 minute meeting.
Katie Wilkinson, Representative Lofgren, and Anusha Allawala
Here are 3 reasons why you should meet with your elected officials:
1) You can give your elected officials a personal story to illustrate the effect of policies in Washington.
It is human nature to relate more easily to an individual’s tragedy than dry numbers. The decrease in science funding has had tremendous effects across the board, but you can help your elected officials understand what it means in their district. I asked Anusha to join the meeting because she is currently supported by the US Department of Education’s McNair Scholars Program, which provides mentorship and funding to low income first generation college students and/or students from underrepresented groups interested in PhD programs. In the past few years the budget for this program, and many similar programs, has been cut drastically. Now McNair Scholars can only receive one year of support instead of two and there is no budget for research supplies. Anusha was able to tell the Congresswoman how important this program has been in helping prepare her for graduate school, especially since she is a recent immigrant and first generation college student. As Congresswoman Lofgren was also a first generation college student you could tell that she really connected with Anusha’s story and the importance of these federally funded training programs. Perhaps Anusha’s story (or yours) will end up in a speech someday.
2) You can thank your elected official for their support of your issue and encourage their continued support.
In the Bay Area, we are lucky to be represented by people who understand the value of science funding and typically support increased levels of funding. I was told that one of the reasons I was offered first chance at the cancellation spot was that Representative Lofgren is very supportive of science and especially women in science. Even though the Congresswoman has signed Dear Colleague letters in support of increased NIH and NSF funding this year it is still important to make sure that she is thanked for her support and reminded that science funding is valued by constituents and institutions in her district. If your elected official is not in support of your issue, an in person meeting has the potential to change their mind.
3) You can offer yourself as a resource to make sure that accurate science is used in making public policy.
In my preparation for the meeting I learned that Representative Lofgren introduced the Zs to As Act in 1998 that would have pushed high school start times later to align with what we know about the adolescent circadian rhythm (sadly the bill never passed). This is a great example of public policy based on science and at our meeting Representative Lofgren told us she had consulted with sleep specialists at Stanford while she was drafting the bill. Scientists are in the perfect position to offer their expertise or network of knowledgeable colleagues to help develop scientifically sound public policy. Most professional societies have an advocacy office that can help you put your elected officials in contact with relevant experts.
Hopefully now you are convinced to set up a meeting with your members of Congress. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions about logistics.