On Tuesday, President Donald Trump proposed an immediate $1.2 billion cut to the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) budget for this year. The measure seems to be part of Trump’s plan to work without an approved budget; as it stands, the president is working within the framework of a continuing resolution, which was assigned by Congress for the 2017 budget year (ending in October).
The president has already proposed a vague budget plan for 2018 which outlines slashing funds for various science and health agencies — including a 20 percent cut on NIH funds. Congress’ December 2016 continuing resolution left the NIH with a $31.6 billion budget.
The NIH isn’t the only agency that might suffer from an immediate budget cut: the proposal also includes cutting a$350 million from the National Science Foundation’s $6.9 billion budget, cutting the Environmental Protection Agency’s research and development budget by $48 million, a $37 million cut to the Department of Energy’s science programs budget, and slashing the $101 million budget of the Teen Pregnancy Prevention program.
While approving an actual budget is up to Congress, the president is responsible for setting up a plan to be reviewed and approved by the House and Senate. Charles Kieffer, Democratic staff director on the Senate Appropriations Committee, told a panel at the Bipartisan Policy Center that Trump’s “focus is on cutting science programs. They are forcing these rob-Peter-to-pay-Paul decisions that will have consequences for a generation.”
One of the foremost responsibilities of the NIH is medical research. A 20 percent decrease — roughly $6 billion — in the NIH’s 2018 budget “would set the agency’s budget back 15 years, below its 2003 level,” wrote Michael White, a genetics professor at the Washington University in St. Louis. “Such a drastic cut would not just reduce the amount of science done by U.S. scientists — it would harm our scientific workforce and infrastructure in ways that would take years, if not decades, to recover from.”
Other experts agree: Clifford Hudis, CEO of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, thinks that “Cutting the funding in this way will have devastating and generation-long effects.” Speaking to NBC News, Hudis explained that “[medical research] is a fundamental driver of American economic strength and it is being compromised here. It’s a jobs program.”
That being said, there are many members of Congress in support of medical research. David Arons, CEO of the National Brain Tumor Society, said that they’re “grateful and encouraged” by the opposition of members of Congress to Trump’s 2018 budget plan. “It would be a tremendous disappointment if we backed away now from all the gains that have been made and all those that are within reach.”