This story was updated at 5 p.m. Dec. 19, 2019, to reflect that the Senate passed the bill.
The Bethesda-based National Institutes of Health (NIH) will receive a $2.6 billion increase as part of a massive year-end funding bill moving through Congress this week to head off a repeat of last year’s federal government shutdown.
The so-called omnibus appropriations bill, which underwrites government operations through the end of the 2020 fiscal year next Sept. 30, contains $41.7 billion for NIH — a 6.7 percent increase from the $39.1 billion the agency received during the prior fiscal year.
The omnibus legislation, containing $1.4 trillion in federal funding, passed the House Tuesday and cleared the Senate on Thursday. President Donald Trump is expected to sign it as part of a deal worked out between Congress and the Trump administration late last week.
The latest boost in NIH funding marks the third year in a row that bipartisan majorities on Capitol Hill have stymied efforts by the Trump administration to significantly reduce the budget for NIH, Montgomery County’s largest single employer, with nearly 20,300 workers.
In addition to the work conducted on its Bethesda campus and nearby facilities, NIH is the leading financial supporter of biomedical research at universities nationwide — with more than three-quarters of its funding devoted to this purpose.
For the current fiscal year, the Trump administration’s proposed budget last March sought a decrease in NIH funding of about 13 percent. That would have brought the agency’s budget down to the approximately $34.3 billion it was receiving annually when Trump took office in January 2017.
Instead, the pending legislation expected to become law by the end of this week will translate into a nearly 22 percent boost in funding for NIH over the past three years — from $34.3 billion to $41.7 billion.
NIH is made up of 27 separate institutes and centers, with the single largest amount of funding going to the National Cancer Institute.
According to information provided Wednesday by the office of U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Maryland, the National Cancer Institute will receive $6.44 billion for the 2020 fiscal year, an increase of nearly $300 million over fiscal 2019. Trump’s original budget proposal sought to cut the cancer institute’s funding by nearly $900 million.
NIH’s second largest unit is the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases – headed for the past third of a century by well-known immunologist Anthony Fauci. It would see its budget for the current fiscal year set at $5.88 billion, an increase of $362 million. The Trump budget had proposed cutting that unit of NIH by more than $750 million.
NIH funding for the coming fiscal year also includes $2.8 billion for Alzheimer’s disease research, according to a statement from U.S. Rep. David Trone, D-Md. “I couldn’t be more thrilled that on a bipartisan basis, our country made a smart investment in research for our children and for our future,” Trone said, echoing comments by Van Hollen.
Van Hollen serves on the Senate Appropriations Committee, which plays a major role in determining funding levels for NIH.
“Our investment in NIH fuels the engine for medical innovation, and it doesn’t make sense to cut these funds as the administration proposed,” Van Hollen said in an email. “That’s why I fought to restore – and increase – our investment in NIH, and I’m pleased we came together on a bipartisan basis in the Congress to do that.”
Van Hollen, U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin and the rest of the Maryland congressional delegation also scored another major victory in the omnibus appropriations bill relating to Chesapeake Bay cleanup efforts.
The legislation contains $85 million in federal funding for the Chesapeake Bay Program, up by $12 million from the previous fiscal year. That comes despite a proposal by the Trump administration to cut the program’s funds by 90 percent.
The Chesapeake Bay program seeks to improve the health of the bay through enforcement of anti-pollution regulations, as well as grants for cleanup efforts.
The original Trump administration proposal would have cut the program’s funding from $73 million in the last fiscal year to $7.3 million. “We fought hard for this investment, and I’m pleased that this effort succeeded, despite the administration’s continued attempts to slash this funding,” Van Hollen said in a statement. “… Protecting and improving the health of the bay, and a thriving bay, is essential to the health of our economy.”
Meanwhile, as Congress moved to wrap up its year-end legislative business, the Senate Tuesday passed a measure authorizing Defense Department operations for the coming year — which includes a provision sponsored by Van Hollen giving an honorary promotion to retired Air Force Col. Charles McGee of Bethesda.
The legislation containing the promotion of McGee, who served with the Tuskegee Airmen during World War II — to brigadier general is expected to be signed shortly by Trump.
According to information provided by Van Hollen’s office, McGee served in the U.S. Air Force during the Korean and Vietnam wars, in addition to his World War II role with the Tuskegee Airmen.
Over the three wars, he flew 409 combat missions, more than any other Air Force fighter pilot. In the course of a 30-year career in the Air Force, he became the first African American to command a stateside Air Force wing and base.