Last week I was in London to participate in a scientific symposium. During coffee breaks, many British colleagues asked me and other American visitors to explain the bewildering news that President Trump had announced his intention to cut the budget for the National Institutes of Health by 18.3 percent, about $5.8 billion.
My answer to “What is going on?” did include some consoling reminders. A presidential budget request is a proposal, not a done deal. The actual fiscal year 2018 appropriation for the N.I.H. will be determined by Congress, which has historically provided enthusiastic bipartisan support for biomedical research. Although the N.I.H. has lost a substantial amount of its spending power gradually over the past decade, it has only rarely experienced a sharp decline in actual dollars and never of this magnitude. Furthermore, strong nonpartisan opposition to Mr. Trump’s proposal will come from many quarters, including advocates of research on specific diseases.
But it would be a mistake to be complacent about the president’s proposal, because it is likely to have real consequences. Yes, some have said that the proposed cut to the N.I.H. will be dead on arrival in Congress. But the president’s budget proposal is still important: The administration’s representatives will need to defend it at hearings, and it could be the starting point for negotiations among appropriators. It is not difficult to imagine a compromise in which the N.I.H. suffers a steep reduction.
Click here to read the full opinion piece by Harold Varmus.