Yesterday (March 15, 2013) in the U.S. Senate, a clear majority—54 of its 100 members—voted for an amendment to increase the fiscal year 2013 budget for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) by $211 million. Unfortunately, a previous agreement between Senate Democrats and Republicans required that amendments receive 60 votes in order to pass. This makes NIH funding the most recent victim of congressional gridlock.
The sponsor of the amendment, longtime NIH champion Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), argued strongly for the amendment. While the amendment would have provided funding for a number of federal agencies, Harkin focused almost all of his remarks on providing more funds for the NIH. In particular, he called out those members of the Senate who regularly claim to support the NIH. “I want to know, where are the champions of NIH, where are they?” Harkin asked. He continued, “I hope the champions of NIH, who say they’re champions of NIH, I hope they’ll step up and support the amendment.” No other member of the Senate, Republican or Democrat, spoke for or against the amendment.
The vote came during Senate debate of a bill that will provide funding for federal government agencies through the end of the fiscal year. Unless the bill is passed and signed into law, government funding will run out on March 27.
—Kevin M. Wilson