President Donald Trump's March 16 proposal to cut the National Institutes of Health's fiscal year 2018 spending by nearly $6 billion, or about 18%, and take another $1.2 billion from the current year would be a draconian measure that would set the agency's budget back 15 years, said former Vice President Joe Biden.
"This is no time to undercut progress, for God's sake," Biden told an audience April 3 in Washington at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research.
"We are standing on the cusp of delivering the promise of decades of research to develop new technologies and therapies; on the cusp of fundamentally transforming the impact of cancer on our society; on the cusp of saving and extending the lives of Americans," said Biden, who led President Barack Obama's Cancer Moonshot initiative, which is aimed at achieving a decade's worth of research and development progress in five years. "It's time to double down, time to be sure we can deliver on the promise of science and technology to extend and improve lives."
But Rep. Kevin Yoder, R-Kan., who calls himself a fiscal conservative, said regardless of who is operating the White House, Congress has not changed its views on funding the NIH and biomedical research.
"I'm here to reassure you that this continues to be a priority for this Congress, for the elected representatives in Washington, to fund cancer research, to fund the NIH," Yoder said during a panel discussion after Biden spoke. "It continues to be a heavy priority for us."
Yoder's remarks aligned with what Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies, said during a March 29 hearing: Congress has no intention of cutting NIH funds and likely is looking to increase them.
"Many of us see this as not another line item on the budget, not some part of some budget war, but something that is really fundamental to who we are as an American people and a prioritization of what matters in this country and in this Congress," Yoder said. "This is an issue that, of course, affects both political parties equally."
"Cancer knows no political party," he added.
Yoder noted he led an effort in November 2015 by 100 Republicans, including members of the House Freedom Caucus — some of the staunchest conservatives on Capitol Hill — to more than double the increase Obama sought for the NIH for fiscal year 2016.
"We all want to save lives in our communities," the Kansas Republican said.
National defense, economic stimulus and fiscal responsibility
Yoder said he considered NIH funding, including for cancer research, a national defense issue.
If there were 600,000 lives lost every year to terrorism like in the case of cancer, "there would be an immediate demand to spend every dollar at our disposal to beef up our defenses," Yoder said.
He said ensuring the NIH is properly funded also is an economic development issue for Americans — a point of view promoted by the agency's director, Francis Collins, who told S&P Global Market Intelligence in December 2016 he thought biomedical research was the best way to stimulate jobs in the U.S.
Like Collins, Yoder cited the 178-fold return on investment of the NIH's Human Genome Project — an international research effort to sequence and map all genes — as the greatest example of biomedical research putting money back into the U.S. economy.
"It's also a fiscal responsibility issue," Yoder said, noting that curing diseases like cancer, Alzheimer's or Parkinson's will ultimately save Medicare, Medicaid and other federal government programs billions of dollars.
"A failure to invest is penny wise and pound foolish," he said.
The best way to demonstrate to lawmakers and policymakers that federal funds are necessary and are being spent sensibly is to relate personal stories about the purpose of the research, Yoder said.
Biden also urged the biomedical research community to choose projects "where the biggest bang for the buck is."
For research related to the Cancer Moonshot, he advised scientists to follow the recommendations laid out in 2016 by the "blue ribbon panel" he convened.
"We must be sure that we are funding collaborative projects that amplify your brilliant research and deliver results for patients," said Biden, whose nonprofit foundation plans to soon launch its own cancer initiative.
"The public will continue to support us overwhelmingly and exponentially more if we demonstrate that we're using their dollars wisely," he said.