Casey backs increased NIH funding

WASHINGTON – Focusing on a budget cut that could have an outsized impact in Philadelphia, Sen. Bob Casey (D, Pa.) plans to push for increased funding for medical research in the Democratic budget set to be unveiled Wednesday and debated in the coming weeks.

Casey will seek added support for the National Institutes of Health, on top of $70 million he expects will be added to the NIH in a short-term budget resolution set for a vote this week.

The program has been particularly generous to Philadelphia and Pennsylvania, but faces a roughly $70 million reduction across the state under the “sequester” cuts that began March 1.

“It’s a great strength for our commonwealth and our country but has really been undermined over the last several years and I think even more so over the past decade,” Casey said in an afternoon conference call.

Pennsylvania companies and universities received $1.4 billion of NIH research grants last year, supporting 25,00 jobs, according to Casey. That was the fourth most, dollar-wise, of any state in the country. The two Congressional districts based in Philadelphia got the first and third most of any districts in the state.

The district represented by Rep. Chaka Fattah (D., Pa.), home to University City, got the most grants, nearly $674 million, according to Casey’s office. Philly Rep. Bob Brady’s first district ranked third, with nearly $119 million in NIH funding a year ago. (The district that includes Pittsburgh and its surrounding areas ranked second).

The first round of added NIH money – the $70 million -- would boost the program above its pre-sequester levels, according to Casey's office. That plan has support from Democrats and Republicans in the Senate, Casey said, though any amount approved will have to be reconciled with the GOP-controlled House’s short-term budget plan.

Overall NIH funding totals about $30.9 billion per year. About 80 percent of that amount goes out in grants, according to Casey's staff.

Even more funding, Casey hopes, will be added to Democrats’ long-range budget, but that proposal is expected to be even more at odds with a House Republican plan that calls for deep spending cuts in order to balance the budget in 10 years.