Reviving the Appropriations Committee’s tradition of holding hearings to allow members of Congress to testify on their priorities within a subcommittee’s jurisdiction, on March 1, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies (Labor-HHS) heard testimony from Members of Congress on their priorities for fiscal year (FY) 2018. Throughout the course of the hearing, Subcommittee Chairman Tom Cole (R-OK) and Ranking Member Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) continually urged members to “continue to advocate for their priorities.” Otherwise, Cole cautioned, the Subcommittee would have to “live within the allocation” it is given by the budget committee. If the Subcommittee has to adjust to an $18 to $20 billion reduction in its allocation as a result of $54 billion increase in funding allotted to fund the Department of Defense under the President’s proposed FY 2018 budget (see related article), “no part of this budget can escape unscathed,” Cole declared.
National Institutes of Health
Several members expressed support for increased funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and education programs.
Rep. Robin Kelly (D-IL), chair of Congressional Black Caucus Health Braintrust, expressed support for programs designed to address the adverse effects of health inequities facing the country. Kelly referenced a report prepared by her office entitled, The Kelly Report on Health Disparities in America, “an official Congressional analysis of the state of African-American health in the U.S.,” and noted the “higher rates of mortality for African-Americans” as compared to any other racial/ethnic group for eight of the top ten causes of death. According to Kelly, the report outlines areas seen as the “most beneficial and impactful health programs” for the Subcommittee to provide appropriations.
Rep. John DeLaney (D-MD) focused his testimony on basic research in general and funding for the NIH, specifically. DeLaney testified that the “NIH is really a singular institution,” there is nothing quite like it in the world. He emphasized NIH’s importance to the state of Maryland and his district, adding that the U.S. faces serious and significant issues as it relates to public health. He also recognized the significant progress made the last several decades and argued that much of that progress would be considered incremental and not the transformative progress we would like. DeLaney further argued that it feels like an opportune time for the federal government to increase its investment in basic research. He also highlighted NIH’s “unbelievable track record” in terms of scientific discovery, including “improving the lives of people and producing actionable research that has transformed our economy.”
As part of his testimony, DeLaney pointed out that investment in basic research has an “economic multiplier of almost 3 to 1″ and that is only counting the direct investment. Cole agreed and pointed out that while the Subcommittee had provided the largest increase in funding for NIH over the last decade, the increase was not as big a deal as it sounded because NIH had been “basically flat funded.” He noted that if the Committee could get the FY 2017 bill out, the good news is that there will be another substantial increase for NIH. Cole also complemented his Senate counterparts, Labor-HHS Chairman Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA), for their leadership on NIH.
Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) expressed concern with opioid abuse and heroin addiction and associated deaths. He encouraged the Subcommittee to fully fund opioid and related cancer research programs supported by the NIH along with funding for the “NIH Innovation projects and state responses to opioid abuse in the 21st Century Cures Act (P.L. 114-255).” Cole noted the committee shares Fitzpatrick’s priorities.
Rep. Thomas MacArthur (R-NJ), co-chair of the Heroine Task Force, strongly urged the subcommittee to “take heart to the dire urgency of our heroine and opioid epidemic”. He urged the subcommittee to consider fully funding the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) and the 21st Century Cures Act as it relates to opioid and heroin addiction in FY 2018. DeLauro pointed out that there are several initiatives in the FY 2017 Labor-HHS budget regarding mental health services at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). She reiterated her suggestion to Fitzpatrick and similarly urged MacArthur to take “a hard look at what may be coming down the pipe with regard to Medicaid and Medicaid expansion,” adding that “people are frequently unaware all that it includes.” Rep. Ann Kuster (D-NH), founder and co-chair of the Heroine Task Force, also commented on the heroine crisis.
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) testified in support of number of programs, including educational opportunity and health research. Lee urged $34.5 billion in funding for the NIH along with a request of $302 million for the National Institute of Minority Health and Health Disparities.
Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA), a psychologist by training, noted the passage of mental health reforms as part of the 21st Century Cures Act in December 2016 and requested the assistance of the committee in funding the statute. The recently passed law makes changes to the leadership and accountability at the federal level for mental health and substance abuse programs, including establishing a new office, the Assistant Secretary of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Disorders, in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Under the new statute, the Assistant Secretary is responsible and accountable for HHS mental health programs and policies and is directed to “evaluate and monitor mental health spending at all federal agencies as well as interface with any agency authorized to coordinate, reimburse, or deliver mental health services, training, or awareness programs.”
Rep. Glen Thompson (R-PA), co-chair of the House Career and Technical Education Caucus and senior member of the House Committee on Education and Workforce, testified on behalf of education priorities. Thompson highlighted the “importance of dedicating strong resources” for technical education programs. Citing statistics from the Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) within the Institute for Education Science (IES), Ranking Member DeLauro noted that she could not agree with Thompson more and urged him to continue advocating for resources for his priorities.