WASHINGTON ― Over the course of the last three years, a bipartisan group of lawmakers made painstaking attempts to pass a major restructuring of biomedical research in America. Known as the 21st Century Cures Act, the bill streamlined regulatory policy at the Food and Drug Administration. It also called for billions more to be spent on key functions at the National Institutes of Health, such as combating the opioid epidemic and undertaking then-Vice President Joe Biden’s cancer moonshot.
When the bill ultimately passed in December, it was hailed as a triumph ― not just because it was the biggest piece of legislation to make it through Congress, but because it had been done the right way, with hearings, negotiations, no rancor and plenty of bipartisanship.
And yet, advocates were worried. To get the bill over the finish line, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) had made critical changes. The $4.8 billion devoted to the NIH over 10 years would no longer be mandatory spending. While the fees and cuts to pay for the NIH funding would remain automatic ― and set aside with express written language that that fund be used for 21st Century Cures priorities ― lawmakers would have to vote each year to spend it.
One top biomedical research advocate told The Huffington Post in that moment that he feared Congress would fund the NIH at a lower level in the coming year precisely because they knew that the 21st Century Funds were there, waiting to be used. And on Thursday, those fears were realized as President Donald Trump unveiled a budget that included a $5.8 billion reduction in NIH funding.
“I said this funding is going to end up supplanting baseline appropriations,” the advocate emailed, “and sure as fuck … look at the President’s budget.”
On the Hill, the reaction was just as raw. One House staffer who worked on legislation noted that Trump’s budget does specifically call for funding 21st Century Cures priorities. But the funding levels requested by Trump falls short of what was envisioned. And even then, the cut to NIH funding sets biomedical research in America back years.
“It is incredibly frustrating,” the staffer said. “They are trying to preserve the Cures’ priorities but the intent of that bill was to give a boost to the NIH. So even if those priorities move forward, this cut is so significant that NIH would have trouble starting any new research.”
Even Republican lawmakers treated Trump’s attempts to shave down the NIH funding as a complete nonstarter.
“More than 300 members voted to boost medical research by billions in November, we cannot turn around a few short months later and slash its budget,” said Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-Kan.). “Funding to research cures to the 10,000 known diseases in this world, like cancer, Alzheimer’s, or Parkinson’s is a priority for every family in America, regardless of political party. I will fight to ensure that these proposed cuts to medical research funding never make it into law.”
Trump’s NIH funding request just one of the high-profile points of divergence between his intentions and those of the Republican-led Congress. But throughout his budget are similar flash points ― places where suggested programmatic cuts were met with pointed objections.
Budgets are, inherently, statements of principles. And this one, like those former President Barack Obama introduced, won’t become law. But Trump’s budget seemed notable for how swiftly so many Republicans came out and said how much they didn’t like it, showing the emerging divide between Trumpism as an ideology and what Republicans on Capitol Hill view as a practical blueprint for governance.
Below are other aspects of Trump’s budget Republicans spoke out about.
Failure To Address Entitlement Spending
Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.): “The fact is that until the president and Congress are willing to address the real drivers of our debt, Medicare and Social Security, we will be complicit in shackling future generations with the financial burden of our own lack of discipline. That is not a legacy I want to leave.”
Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.): “There have been many attempts made to try to balance the books of the U.S. government on the backs of the discretionary dollar, and we all know that’s a fantasy, because the drivers of the debt are on the mandatory side: Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security. Trying to solve for a deficit in the hundreds of billions of dollars cannot be accomplished through deeper cuts to discretionary programs without terrific harm to both the economy and a lot of innocent people.”
Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.): “The president proposes and Congress disposes. We can’t finance a defense buildup entirely on the back of domestic, nondefense spending. It’s not realistic and unfair.”
Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.): “I can tell you that I brought up entitlement reform [with Trump] a week or so ago, [and] the pushback was a little stronger than I expected. It’s going to take a lot more encouragement in terms of actually tackling entitlement reform.”
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.): “Any effort to balance the budget by cutting discretionary spending is not a straightforward approach.”
Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.): “We can no longer expand federal spending without finding savings somewhere. And so, the people who want to protect nondefense discretionary, they’re going to have to realize at some point we may have to look at the entitlement programs.”
Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.): “We’ve reduced our discretionary spending over the last seven or eight years an incredible amount. Maybe some people don’t like those agencies, but it’s been pretty difficult for them to meet their mandate.”
Funding For Storing Nuclear Waste At Yucca Mountain
Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.): “As has been stated in the past, Yucca is dead and this reckless proposal will not revive it. Washington needs to understand what Nevada has been saying for years: We will not be the nation’s nuclear waste dump. This project was ill-conceived from the beginning and has already flushed billions of taxpayer dollars down the drain. Members of both parties keep trying to revive this dead project via the budget and appropriations process, but I will continue to fight those efforts.”
Not Enough Spending On Defense
Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas): “The Administration’s budget request is not enough to repair that damage and to rebuild the military as the president has discussed. ... It is morally wrong to task someone with a mission for which they are not fully prepared and fully supported with the best weapons and equipment this nation can provide.”
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.): “The fiscal year 2018 defense topline proposed today of $603 billion will not be sufficient to rebuild the military. Such a budget does not represent a 10 percent increase as previously described by the White House, but amounts to a mere 3 percent over President Obama’s defense plan, which has left our military underfunded, undersized and unready to meet the threats of today and tomorrow.”
Steep Cuts To Foreign Aid
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.): “The diplomatic portion of the federal budget is very important and you get results a lot cheaper frequently than you do on the defense side. So speaking for myself, I’m not in favor of reducing the [foreign aid] account to that extent.”
Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.): “I am very concerned by reports of deep cuts that could damage efforts to combat terrorism, save lives, and create opportunities for American workers.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.): “I do not support the proposed 28 percent cut to our international affairs budget and diplomatic efforts led by the State Department. These programs are integral to our national security, and cuts at these levels undermine America’s ability to keep our citizens safe.”
Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.): “As [Defense Secretary] General [Jim] Mattis said prophetically, slashing the diplomatic efforts will cause them to have to buy more ammunition. There [are] two sides to fighting the problem that we’re in: There is military and then there’s diplomatic. And we can’t afford to dismantle the diplomatic half of that equation.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.): “I appreciate that this budget increases defense spending, yet these increases in defense come at the expense of national security, soft power, and other priorities.”
Cuts To After-School Programs
Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Pa.): “[I] write to express our deep concerns over reports that the President’s Fiscal Year 2018 budget request will elimination of the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program. This critical program provides a direct funding stream to allow children to have access to afterschool programming. [I] ask that you reconsider this misguided proposal.”
Elimination Of Programs Serving Rural America
Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.): “While we have a responsibility to reduce our federal deficit, I am disappointed that many of the reductions and eliminations proposed in the President’s skinny budget are draconian, careless and counterproductive. In particular, the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) has a long-standing history of bipartisan support in Congress because of its proven ability to help reduce poverty rates and extend basic necessities to communities across the Appalachian region.”
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska): “While I support the President’s emphasis on a strong national defense, I cannot support many of the proposed cuts in this ‘skinny’ budget. Programs like Essential Air Service, Low Income Heating Assistance, and water and wastewater programs are critical to the health, welfare, and safety of Alaskans, especially those in our remote, rural communities. We need to remember that these programs are not the primary drivers of our debt, and to look at the full budget to find the best ways to reduce federal spending.”
Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska): “Remember, Congress still plays a role in this. We don’t have any highways in Alaska; that’s why it’s called essential air service.”
Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas): “Agriculture has done more than its fair share. The bottom line is this is the start of a longer, larger process. It is a proposal, not THE budget.”
Elimination Of Funds For Great Lakes Cleanup
Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio): “I have long championed this program, and I’m committed to continuing to do everything I can to protect and preserve Lake Erie, including preserving this critical program and its funding.”
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