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Cantor Balancing Research Priorities, Fiscal Concerns

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Cantor is expected to bring to the floor this month legislation that would increase medical researching funding by shifting taxpayer money from funds for presidential elections and conventions.

But while support for such research is nearly universal, House Democrats have voted against ending the Presidential Election Campaign Fund in the past, so it’s unclear how many will sign on to Cantor’s approach. The White House opposed legislation to terminate the fund in early 2011, arguing that “it is critical that the nation’s presidential election public financing system be fixed rather than dismantled.”

The Sequester’s Impact

Democrats in both chambers can be expected to continue to focus on the effect of the sequester on research at the National Institutes of Health, however, and to call for those cuts to be canceled.

At a Senate hearing last month, NIH Director Francis S. Collins testified that the sequester “has already dealt a devastating blow to NIH and to the entire biomedical research enterprise.”

In fiscal 2013, he said, the agency is funding 700 fewer new and competing research project grants than in the previous fiscal year.

Cantor noted that he is aware of the effect of reduced spending on the NIH because of the sequester.

“It cuts off, perhaps, the continued flow of new, young scientists to come into the field so that we can see the product of their work and innovation,” he said.

But he maintained that the House has “always taken the position that the sequester is not the right way to go about the cuts and reduction in spending.” He blamed the White House for the across-the-board cuts remaining in effect and noted that his chamber passed legislation multiple times “to replace the sequester with properly placed reductions in spending in the mandatory area.”

“We believe much more mileage, if you will, is gained by approaching that side of the ledger than you do with the discretionary side,” he said.

Meanwhile, the White House says Congress allowed the sequester to take effect and the administration has called for lawmakers to replace the across-the-board reductions promptly.

Cantor said the House has always maintained NIH funding as a priority. But Democrats have criticized the potential effect of recent House GOP spending allocations. They have called for a markup of the fiscal 2014 Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill to explain how an approved funding level cut for that measure would be made.

“Republicans are trying to cut more money from core priorities like medical research, support for our schools, job training, financial aid for college students — and the list goes on and on,” Connecticut’s Rosa DeLauro said in a statement last month. DeLauro is the top Democrat on the Labor-HHS-Education subcommittee. “They may say this is unfortunate, but necessary. That is simply not true.”

Federal Role

Although securing funding is especially challenging in an atmosphere of fiscal restraint, medical research has continued to attract support from both sides of the aisle. For example, Cantor praised President Barack Obama’s budget proposal for a new brain research effort but said in a statement that it should be financed by rerouting political and social science research money.

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