Christmas Comes Early for NIH

March 4th, 2009 | Sources: NY Times

arlendontlooklikesantaThat was quite a coup Arlen Spector pulled off a few weeks back, huh?

The Republican Senator from Pennsylvania cast one of only 3 GOP votes in the Senate for the Big O’s economic Hail Mary, and the pound of flesh he extracted in return was a cool $10 billion for the NIH.

A survivor of 2 cancer scares, open-heart surgery and a bogus diagnosis of Lou Gehrig’s disease, Spector has been an NIH backer forever. But this move alone deserves a lifetime achievement award from the folks in Bethesda.

Before Spector put his foot down, Senate versions of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act had set aside $29 billion for the NIH, but Spector almost singlehandedly bumped the number to $39 billion before saying “aye.”

heregocurecancerOf that total, $2 billion will support building and equipment projects at the Bethesda campus and medical centers around the country.

Nearly all the rest will be used to fund up to 15,000 short term grant proposals.

That would expand the current NIH grant portfolio by 33%, although the deal is use it or lose it in 2 years because after that it’s back to business as usual, budget-wise.

Republican leaders in the House argued the NIH was already flush with cash and that such a windfall would support less worthy projects while creating few jobs.

To which the NIH counters that currently, it’s able to fund only 40% of grant proposals it deems meritorious and thousands of beaker-ready studies are on the docket.

Importantly, typical grants cover projects lasting longer than 2 years, so project plans are going to have to be altered to meet the requirements of the stimulus package.

Pat White, the Association of American Universities’ VP for federal relations hailed Spector’s work as among the most important accomplishment on behalf of the NIH in years.

“He turned his support of NIH into the fulcrum of the entire stimulus negotiations,” White told the New York Times.


 

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