Valuing Life in the National Budget: Maintaining Funding for the NIH

04/26/2017 02:37 pm ET

The March for Science troubled me. It troubled me that it was necessary. It troubles me that the budget proposed by the President values death over life.

In the new budget, there is a proposed 18% cut to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The idea is to cut “waste” by eliminating “overhead” payments to universities and other research institutions. The plan is that the government will only fund the direct costs of research. The illusion is that scientists will be able to continue their research. What these cuts really mean is that the cost of maintaining the building that the research takes place, as an example, would fall to the institutions doing the work, some of which are already cash strapped public universities. Others in a better financial position would have to re-allocate resources to support research, away from expenses like scholarships. However you look at it, cuts that deep will halt most health research. Both sides of the aisle are complaining.

Let me say this clearly. If this part of the budget goes through without amendment, research into cures for cancer, diabetes, and heart disease will all but stop in the USA. These studies will not be put on hold. They will cease. Why? Because the collateral costs of research are high.

Think about personnel; it takes decades to put together the best research teams and build a body of work that makes a difference. If their work cannot be continued, these teams are disbanded and all momentum lost. Scientists are like the rest of us. They work for a paycheck.

Meanwhile, the President has asked for a $54 billion increase to the military budget, about ten times what he wants to take from the NIH.

I certainly understand ideological differences and how, in this global political climate, a person could value “safety” and “defense.” While I do not agree with it, I also understand the choice to increase the military budget. But we cannot do so by shutting down medical research in this country. Far more Americans are killed by stroke, addiction, cardiopulmonary diseases, and communicable diseases, than are killed or likely will be killed by terrorists or combat. These are budget cuts we simply cannot afford. Want to fund the NIH? The President proposes to cut the corporate tax rate from 35% to 15%. That would definitely stimulate business, and this is a pro-business administration. How about instead we cut the tax rate a little less -- still a boost for business, and allows the NIH to stay funded. After all, if you cut the heart out of healthcare and health research, those businesses you’re trying to attract won’t have healthy, able employees to work for them. Business benefits from health research too.

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