Transcript of the Floor Debate on the
Amendment offered by Mr. Toomey
| Mr. TOOMEY. Mr. Chairman, I
offer an amendment.
The CHAIRMAN pro tempore (Mr. Hastings of Washington). The Clerk will designate the amendment.
The text of the amendment is as follows:
Amendment offered by Mr. Toomey:
At the end of the bill, insert after the last section (preceding the short title) the following section:
SEC. X. None of the funds made available in this Act for the National Institutes of Health may be used to fund grant number R01HD043689, R03HD039206, R01DA013896, or R01MH065871.
The CHAIRMAN pro tempore. Points of order are reserved.
Pursuant to the order of the House of today, the gentleman from Pennsylvania (Mr. Toomey) and a Member opposed will each control 10 minutes.
The Chair recognizes the gentleman from Pennsylvania (Mr. Toomey).
MODIFICATION TO AMENDMENT OFFERED BY MR. TOOMEY
Mr. TOOMEY. Mr. Chairman, I ask unanimous consent that the amendment be modified in the form at the desk.
The CHAIRMAN pro tempore. The Clerk will report the modification.
The Clerk read as follows:
Modification to amendment offered by Mr. Toomey:
At the end of the bill, insert after the last section (preceding the short title) the following section:
SEC. . None of the funds made available in this Act may be used to fund grant number R01HD39789 at the National Institutes of Health.
The CHAIRMAN pro tempore. Is there objection to the modification offered by the gentleman from Pennsylvania?
There was no objection.
The text of the amendment, as modified, is as follows:
Amendment, as modified offered by Mr. TOOMEY:
At the end of the bill, insert after the last section (preceding the short title) the following section:
SEC. X. None of the funds made available in this Act for the National Institutes of Health may be used to fund grant number R01HD043689 R03HD039206, R01DA013896, or R01MH065871.
SEC. X. None of the funds made available in this Act may be used to fund grant number R01HD039789 at the National Institutes of Health.
Mr. TOOMEY. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself 3 1/2 minutes.
Mr. Chairman, I think all of us in this Chamber have been faced with the painful visits in our offices from constituents who come to us with a heartrending story of a member of their family, often a child, who is suffering from a terrible and debilitating disease, perhaps a fatal disease, perhaps a disease for which there is no cure; and they come to us asking for some help, asking for resources to provide for the research that might find a cure. And nobody has heard more of these heartrending and compelling stories than the distinguished chairman of this committee. I know he has devoted enormous amounts of time and effort to making sure the resources are there to help to try to find cures where it is possible.
I think we have all embraced the idea of significant increases in funding for NIH, I have, and I think that is a bipartisan agreement. And we are all proud that we have doubled funding for NIH over 5 years. But what this amendment is about is trying to find a little bit more hope for a few more families. My amendment does not cut a dime of funding for NIH. What it does do is it would require the NIH to reprogram the money that is going to a few grants which we think are just much less worthy of taxpayer funding than the kind of research the NIH is generally doing to cure these devastating diseases.
Now, one of these is a research project that the gentleman from Indiana is going to discuss, but I want to mention the four that my amendment would specifically exclude and forbid further funding from. These are projects, grants that are under way now and have already been funded by the NIH in the past, and we would, with this amendment, shut off further funding for.
One of them is a study on the sexual habits of older men. A second is a study on San Francisco's Asian prostitutes and masseuses. A third one is a study on mood arousal and sexual risk-taking. And let me just share with my colleagues a highly sanitized and abbreviated summary of their grant application. If I actually read the whole thing, I suspect I would be admonished for the language I would be using on the House floor, so I will read just a little summary.
This is a proposal, which says: ``In a series of laboratory studies, mood and sexual arousal will be induced and then their individual and combined effects on sexual risk-taking will be examined.'' Those are not my words. Those are the words of the applicant for the grants.
There is another study on American Indian transgender research. The proposal, which is based on the proposition that American Indian and Alaskan native lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and too-spirited individuals are a drastically understudied and underserved group.
Mr. Chairman, I ask my colleagues, who thinks this stuff up? And, worse, who decides to actually fund these sorts of things? Well, unfortunately, the NIH has done so. These are the exceptions, and not the rule. This is not a general criticism of the NIH. But the point is these are not applications that are worthy of taxpayer funds.
And let me make the point that there is nobody here that I know of that is saying we should ban this sort of research. If they want to do this sort of research, we need to fund this privately and not with taxpayer dollars. I simply want to make the point that there are so many far more important, very real diseases that are affecting real people; and that is what this kind of money could be used for, would be used for.
We leave it to the NIH to decide how to reprogram this. And as for those who suggest that we should not interfere with the process by which the NIH decides how to allocate their funds, let me strongly disagree. We have an affirmative obligation in this Congress, as the body that controls the pursestrings of the Federal Government, to supervise and provide oversight. And when a bureaucracy is making mistakes, we have an obligation to come here and correct that. That is all we are saying.
Mr. Chairman, I reserve the balance of my time.
Mr. REGULA. Mr. Chairman, I rise to claim the time in opposition to this amendment, and I yield myself such time as I may consume.
These amendments have been picked out of a database that contains a single paragraph on each of 40,000 grants that NIH supports. Now, keep in mind that that represents a winnowing down from perhaps 120,000 applications. How do they pick the one out of three that will be funded? The NIH has an elaborate two-tiered peer review process that is mandated by the Public Health Service Act. Outside review panels of distinguished scientists from universities nationwide gather to review each application, which can easily run on to several hundred pages.
I think to pass judgment on these, you would have to read the several hundred pages to know what the ultimate goal is, rather than one paragraph. Then these recommendations are reviewed by advisory councils comprised of scientists and members of the public whose nominations are cleared through the Department.
NIH only funds about 30 percent, as I mentioned; and we can be confident that they are very careful because there are so many good objectives in the form of requests. They go through these very, very carefully with top-flight people to ensure that there is a worthy objective to be achieved in doing the research in question.
If Members are concerned about NIH funding in certain issue areas, I think they should urge the authorizing committees to review this as they consider the reauthorization of NIH, and that will be coming up. I know that the Committee on Energy and Commerce has been doing an extensive review of NIH actions across a number of areas in preparation for a reauthorization, and I would suggest to my colleagues this would be the appropriate place to bring up their objections to the process that is presently used by NIH because in the reauthorization action they can address what they feel might be a shortcoming.
I strongly urge the Members to resist the temptation to select a few grants for defunding because they do not like the sound of them based on one paragraph out of what probably was a number of pages of information. It would set a dangerous precedent and put a chill on medical research if we start to micromanage individual NIH grants.
This has worked well over the years. We have had enormous progress because of these grants in achieving medical knowledge and giving the public a better health care system. I do not think this body, this committee, wants to get into the process of reviewing 120,000 grants and trying to pick 40,000 out of that group for funding.
I strongly urge the Members to reject this amendment; and I urge my colleagues to take this issue to the proper committee, the Committee on Energy and Commerce, and if they feel that NIH needs to have its processes reformed, then that is the place to do it.
Mr. YOUNG of Florida. Mr. Chairman, will the gentleman yield?
Mr. REGULA. I yield to the gentleman from Florida, the chairman of the full committee.
Mr. YOUNG of Florida. Mr. Chairman, I thank the gentleman for yielding to me; and in the interest of time, I am not going to repeat some of the arguments. The gentleman as made a very persuasive argument, and I associate myself with those remarks.
The chairman is right on target, and I just think that this would be a mischievous amendment and hope that we can defeat the amendment.
Mr. REGULA. Mr. Chairman, I reserve the balance of my time.
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Mr. TOOMEY. Mr. Chairman, I yield 3 minutes to the gentleman from Indiana (Mr. Chocola), the cosponsor of this amendment.
Mr. CHOCOLA. Mr. Chairman, I thank the gentleman for yielding me this time, and I appreciate his remarks and would like to associate myself with his earlier remarks.
With all due respect to the distinguished chairman and to the peer review process, I think this amendment is relatively simple. It lives up to our responsibility that we are really sent here to do, and that is to be a good steward of taxpayer dollars.
Now, not only does the appropriations fund grants that the gentleman from Pennsylvania (Mr. Toomey) mentioned, it also funds a grant that studies human linkages with the panda reserve in China. Now, I do not think I am going out on a limb to say that no one in the Second Congressional District of Indiana is going to benefit from this study. I doubt I am taking too much of a risk to say no one in any congressional district in America is going to benefit from this study.
Mr. Chairman, I come from a business background, and I am a new Member of Congress; but when someone in our company wanted to spend money, we had to take the ultimate responsibility. And although the peer review process is probably pretty good, there comes a time when you have to say no, when you have to say this money is not spent in the best interest of the American people.
Since I do not know that we can identify people who benefit from this taxpayer money being spent on these grants, I do know, as the gentleman from Pennsylvania pointed out, the people in my district have juvenile diabetes, they have cancer, they have AIDS, they have horrible diseases like Crohn's, and that is what we should be spending NIH money on. We should be eradicating these horrible diseases that ruin families, ruin individual lives rather than grants that really benefit no one that we can identify.
So I urge my colleagues to adopt this amendment.
Mr. TOOMEY. Mr. Chairman, may I inquire as to who closes in this process.
The CHAIRMAN pro tempore. The gentleman from Ohio (Mr. Regula) has the right to close.
Mr. TOOMEY. Mr. Chairman, I yield 2 1/2 minutes to the gentleman from Arizona (Mr. Flake).
Mr. FLAKE. Mr. Chairman, I thank the gentleman for yielding me this time, and with all deference to the distinguished chairmen who have spoken here, I think that we do need to speak out at this point.
I have been concerned about this for a while. I sent a letter recently to NIH asking that they explain their decision to fund a study that is not covered here, it is another study, that paid women to watch pornography and to study arousal. The letter I received back was interesting. The NIH said, ``The research methods used in the grant were scientifically established and met ethical research standards.''
Now, I do not doubt that at all; but that is not the standard that we ought to employ here. The standard we ought to employ here is, is this a proper use of taxpayer funds, and I think on that level it surely fails.
I do not know how in the world, when we do not have enough money to fund things like the reaction of children to vaccines for childhood autism, that is one request that was actually denied because NIH came back and said we do not have sufficient money to do that, that is a serious disease affecting a lot of people. So we do not have enough money to do that; but then, in turn, we have enough money to fund a study to pay women to watch pornography. I think that is wrong.
The chairman noted there is peer review. Certainly there is. Again, the question we need to have answered is not whether this is scientifically based or reviewed, but is it proper for the taxpayers to fund. I would suggest that there is a lot of funding available out there from people like Larry Flint or others, but we should not be asking the American taxpayer to fund this kind of thing.
Mr. REGULA. Mr. Chairman, I yield 1 minute to the gentleman from California (Mr. Cunningham).
Mr. CUNNINGHAM. Mr. Chairman, I reluctantly stand opposed to this amendment, but I understand why my colleagues want it. I do not think there is a thing in there I would support if asked to support, but I will say that I have hundreds of doctors and hospitals come to me every single day and ask me to direct NIH to do this or that. I personally believe that things and discoveries should be left up to NIH, that when something is close to helping, we should allow them to do that.
But once we get into politicians, which we all are, directing what NIH does, it is not what you are trying to eliminate, it is the whole broad perspective of what we could do in the long run. In the past, many of the diseases were politicized, and funding was taken totally away from others, and I want to stay away from that. I think it is a bad precedent, not on the gentleman's issue, but on the precedent of directing NIH. I reluctantly oppose the amendment.
Mr. REGULA. Mr. Chairman, I yield 4 minutes to the gentleman from Wisconsin (Mr. Obey).
Mr. OBEY. Mr. Chairman, years ago Senator Proxmire from my State used to have the Golden Fleece Awards. He was a good friend of mine. One year he made a whole lot of fun of a study on Polish pigs. They had a field day with it. Funny name, strange-sounding grant. Well, guess what? That study led to the development of a new blood pressure medicine which millions of people use today. The know-nothings in the Congress at that time would have eliminated that study. I do not think that would have been a good outcome.
I have served on the subcommittee that deals with NIH for a long time, and the one thing I came to understand very quickly is that the day that we politicize NIH research, the day we decide which grants are going to be approved on the basis of a 10-minute horseback debate in the House of Representatives with 434 of the 435 Members in this place who do not even know what the grant is, that is the day we will ruin science research in this country. We have no business making political judgments about those kinds of issues.
I would ask the following questions of the gentlemen who are offering this amendment: Can they tell me what score each of the grants received in the peer review process? Can they tell me who is on the peer review committee that takes a look at each of these in the study circles? Do you have objection to any of the persons who are on those study sections? I think the gentlemen have an obligation to answer those questions if they are going to bring something like this to the floor with no notice and no understanding of what these grants do.
Now, I would say that I do not have any idea what these grants do. I can imagine, though, that perhaps this study on so-called sexual arousal, that perhaps it is one way of trying to determine how you prevent child molestation or rape. I can also imagine with respect to the longitudinal study on sexual behavior of old men, NIH says this: ``Without a better understanding of age-related changes in men's sexual functions, physicians may assume that declines in function are normal when they actually reflect early symptoms of disease such as diabetes and heart disease.''
With respect to the study that relates to intervention for drug-using women sex workers, let us say you do not have any sympathy at all for the sex workers or their partners. I am concerned about the innocent partners of those partners. What about the wives of persons who go to these sex workers and then wind up getting disease? I think we ought to know as much as possible how to prevent transmission of disease, and what role drug use has in that process.
So without knowing anything about these, I return to my basic principle: We have NIH for a reason; we have peer review for a reason. I would rather trust the judgment of 10 doctors sitting around a table than I would 10 politicians sitting around a table when we decide how to allocate taxpayer money for those grants.
The reason NIH is there is so none of us bring our political biases to the table, and that is the way it ought to remain.
Mr. BAIRD. Mr. Chairman, will the gentleman yield?
Mr. OBEY. I yield to the gentleman from Washington.
Mr. BAIRD. Mr. Chairman, I want to associate myself with the remarks of the distinguished chairman and dispute the comments of the gentleman from Indiana, and particularly the material he provided to his colleagues which said do not spend money for NIH panda research in China. In fact, the research has to do with population dynamics, the pressure on an ecosystem that supports the pandas, and the development of a population, including how those people can provide fuel and food for their children. It is a study of pandas; it is a study of human development.
There is a fundamental nexus between environmental quality, human health, and population pressures that impacts the world profoundly. The gentleman fails to recognize that and deceives his colleagues with the title of his amendment.
Mr. TOOMEY. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself the balance of my time.
Let me say, we can read the entire application, and the projects do not sound any more compelling or any more convincing. The point is this is about priorities. There are just so many devastating diseases that are killing people every day in this country. There are many where the NIH is responsible for tremendous progress being made on so many fronts. I think we have an obligation to do as much as we can for those priorities.
Studying Asian prostitution in San Francisco massage parlors and the study of mood swings on sexual arousal does not strike me as deserving the same kind of priority as curing cancer in small children and so many other devastating diseases. That is what I think this is about.
As for the peer review process, as a general matter I completely agree with the peer review process, but I do not think that absolves us completely of our obligation to have some oversight on these issues and decide whether or not in some cases this peer review process runs amok.
That is what I think this debate is all about: Do we draw the line anywhere ever, or do we not. I think we do, I think we should on these specific grants, and I urge my colleagues to vote to adopt this amendment.
Mr. Chairman, I yield back the balance of my time.
Mr. REGULA. Mr. Chairman, I yield 45 seconds to the gentleman from Michigan (Mr. Rogers).
Mr. ROGERS of Michigan. Mr. Chairman, I rise reluctantly as well, but in peer review science, being in the middle of it is maybe not the place to effect change. Maybe we should set some parameters up front.
One of the studies here sounds fairly innocent. Research on pandas and their relationship sounds a little funny on its face, but when we look at it, and I can say it no better than a representative from Michigan State University, and I just want to read this, ``Perhaps at no other time in human history have the issues been so crucial as pandemics whose roots are found in animals spread across the globe: SARS, AIDS and monkeypox, to name a few. Dr. Lou's work is exactly the research needed to understand and plan for tomorrow's health issues.''
They are getting into understanding and study of how some of these diseases get transferred from animals to humans. I would argue that is very, very important work, and we ought to invest in it.
Mr. REGULA. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself such time as I may consume.
I urge my colleagues to vote against this amendment. We cannot start second-guessing and trying to review the work of NIH. They have very distinguished panelists, experts and scientists. They spend a lot of time on these. They have 120,000 applications. They do the best job they can, and they have been successful. I would urge my colleagues to go to the authorizing committee if they feel there should be some different procedures and bring that to their attention as they review these panel activities.
The CHAIRMAN pro tempore (Mr. Hastings of Washington). The question is on the amendment, as modified, offered by the gentleman from Pennsylvania (Mr. Toomey).
The question was taken; and the Chairman pro tempore announced that the noes appeared to have it.
Mr. TOOMEY. Mr. Chairman, I demand a recorded vote.