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Congress Adjourns For Fall Campaign, Action on Domestic Spending Bills Pushed Off to Post-Election "Lame Duck" Session; NIH Authorization Clears House

October 3, 2006

With midterm elections little more than five weeks away, Congress has adjourned for the fall campaign season and in doing so pushed off work on a range of domestic issues until a "lame duck" legislative session that is expected to begin the week of November 17.  Among the bills that Congress will have to confront when it returns are FY 2007 spending bills for mental illness research and services, housing and veterans programs. 

New Fiscal Year Began October 1

As in previous years, the new federal fiscal year began without Congress completing action on a range of spending bills covering most domestic cabinet agencies and programs.  Instead, congressional leaders agreed to a "continuing resolution" that extends current year funding levels through November 17 to avoid a government shutdown. 

When Congress returns after the election, they will continue to face tight limits on overall discretionary spending, making agreement on the remaining funding bills difficult.  In recent weeks, a group of 24 moderate Republican members of the House of Representatives is calling on their leadership to fulfill a commitment made earlier this year to provide additional funding for the FY 2007 bill that includes funding for both NIH and SAMHSA (known as the Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill).  The moderates, led by Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del.), sent a Sept. 27 reminding House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) "of the agreement to provide no less than $7 billion above the Administration's request" for the FY 2007 Labor-HHS bill. The letter states, "This amount is equal to the funding enacted in FY06 … plus a 2 percent inflationary increase."

When the House Appropriations Committee determined its FY 2007 subcommittee allocations, over $6 billion was shifted from defense and foreign operations into domestic discretionary spending, including $4.1 billion added to the Administration's request for the Labor-HHS bill. The letter notes that as a result of further negotiations on the FY 2007 budget resolution (H.Con.Res. 376
), the Majority Leader "and other members of our leadership committed to providing no less than $3 billion above the $4.1 billion that had already been shifted for programs" in the Labor-HHS bill Click here to view their recent letters to House and Senate leaders.

NAMI congratulates and thanks these 24 House members for supporting additional funding for mental illness research and services.  Their efforts are central to avoiding cuts to research and services.  Senators Arlen Specter (R-PA) and Tom Harkin (D-IA) are working on a similar bipartisan letter in the Senate.

The following House Republicans signed the letter in addition to Rep. Castle:  Judy Biggert (Ill.), Sherry Boehlert (N.Y), Charlie Dent (Pa.), Michael Fitzpatrick (Pa.), Jim Gerlach (Pa.), Wayne Gilchrest (Md.), Nancy Johnson (Conn.), Timothy Johnson (Ill.), Sue Kelly (N.Y.), Randy Kuhl (N.Y.), Jim Leach (Iowa), Frank LoBiondo (N.J.), Steven LaTourette (Ohio), John McHugh (N.Y.), Todd Platts (Pa.), Jon Porter (Nev.), Jim Ramstad (Minn.), Dave Reichert (Wash.), Joe Schwarz (Mich.), Christopher Shays (Conn.), Rob Simmons (Conn.), Fred Upton (Mich.), and Curt Weldon (Pa.).

Click here to view the Castle letter. (PDF, opens in a new browser window)

View details on proposed FY 2007 spending levels for mental illness research and services, housing and veterans programs.

House Passes NIH Reauthorization Bill

On September 26, the House passed the first bill reauthorizing the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in nearly 15 years.  The vote was 414-2, reflecting strong bipartisan consensus on the legislation.  The bill (HR 6164) includes a range of changes designed to create greater transparency and accountability in how each of the 27 institutes and centers at NIH (including the NIMH) allocate funding for medical research. 

The bill also creates a "common fund" that would allow 2 or more NIH institutes to collaborate on basic scientific or clinical research.  This common fund would be capped at 5% of the overall NIH budget (just over $28 billion in FY 2006).  In allocating resources from this new common fund, a new center would be established in the NIH Director’s office.  This new office would direct resources to grants on the basis of emerging scientific opportunity and public health burden.  A proposal similar to this common fund was recommended by an Institute of Medicine (IOM) report from 2003. 

Among the key provisions in HR 6164 is a proposal for establishing a new standardized NIH-wide uniform reporting system.  This would become the basis of an NIH-wide reporting system for all research grants, categorized by disease.  This provision is intended to help clarify research funding by disease state, i.e. how much is NIH spending on a specific condition or illness.  Other key provisions would:

  • Authorize a five percent annual increase in NIH’s budget for fiscal years 2007-2009;
  • Limit the overall size of the NIH to the current 27 institutes and centers; and
  • Create a Scientific Management Review Group, composed of institute and center directors and other experts, to evaluate NIH’s structural organization at least once every seven years and propose any restructuring plans it deems necessary.