A weekly advocacy message from Mary Woolley: Defending our priorities

Mary Woolley

Dear Research Advocate:

Was it the luck of the Irish that brought together a remarkable lineup of celebrities, members of Congress, advocates, researchers and patients for a stunning showcase of advocacy for cancer research? No luck needed. It would be difficult to identify a goal more compelling than conquering a constellation of diseases that cause more than 589,000 deaths in the U.S. each year. On Tuesday, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, Stand Up to Cancer, ACT for NIH and Merck launched the One Degree campaign. This initiative, which reminds us that we are all just one degree away from cancer and other devastating diseases, aims to increase research funding at NIH by $6 billion over two years. Among those participating were members of Congress who self-identified as strong fiscal conservatives, but who nonetheless recognize the overwhelming national priority of investing in research. (I was also struck by Senator Blunt's (R-MO) commitment to re-establishing "regular order." He said … "when you don't debate and defend your priorities, you forget what they are … people lose track of the good things we are spending our money for."  Well said!)

Tuesday also saw the release of the FY16 House budget resolution, followed on Wednesday by the Senate version. As always, these budget resolutions outline 10-year spending plans and reflect the spending priorities of the Majority party in each House of Congress. Unless the two resolutions are reconciled, which is unlikely, each chamber will use the top line FY16 budget figures to determine funding allocations for the various appropriations subcommittees. That’s disappointing, since no effort was made to end or reduce the austerity effect of sequestration. Even more disappointing is what these blueprints would do going forward. Over the coming decade, both budgets call for even deeper cuts in non-defense discretionary (NDD) spending than required under the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA). With cuts like that, there would be no room for growth in spending for medical research, education or any other non-defense related national priority.  Read our statement here.

As discouraging as the budget resolutions are, they do not carry the force of law and the process is not over. We know there are members who recognize that research can no longer be neglected. I’ve been watching Congress for a long time now and feel more optimistic than in recent years; there is new determination afoot and with a mix of luck - Irish or otherwise - and lots of hard work, we can move from speech making to action on supporting medical research and innovation.

Part of that hard works means it is your turn to weigh in. Congressman Leonard Lance (R-NJ-07) emphasized at the One Degree program on Tuesday that "when policymakers see great passion and perseverance, they respond." There is a window open now for your passion and perseverance to be heard. On April 29, the House Labor-HHS appropriations subcommittee, which has jurisdiction over HHS agencies including NIH, CDC and AHRQ, will be holding a public witness hearing. If you are interested in testifying before the subcommittee, please submit a request to testify by Tuesday, March 31. Alternatively, if you would prefer to submit written testimony for the record, please do so by April 29.  Instructions from the committee for submitting in person and written testimony are here.  The Senate Labor-HHS subcommittee has not scheduled a public witness hearing, but is accepting written testimony for the record by Friday, April 3; instructions here.

Finally, I hope you will join me on Thursday, March 26 at 2:00 pm EST for a webinar on the state of play in Washington.  We’ll be looking at 21st Century Cures, FY16 appropriations, and other touchpoints bearing on the future of U.S. medical innovation. This interactive program is free to Research!America members; please click here to register.


Mary Woolley

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Without research, there is no hope.
The Honorable Paul G. Rogers