The NIH's Well-Spent Money

Albert R. Hunt is a Bloomberg View columnist. He was the executive editor of Bloomberg News, before which he was a reporter, bureau chief and executive Washington editor at the Wall Street Journal.
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In this week's column, I described the potentially devastating effect of automatic spending cuts on Alzheimer's research.

The National Institutes of Health, whose outlays are being cut 5 percent by the so-called sequestration, has been the gold standard for federal programs and has been championed by Republicans and Democrats alike for most of the past three decades.

During the administration of President Ronald Reagan, when Republicans and conservatives dominated the federal government, the NIH budget grew to more than $7 billion, from $3.5 billion. In the 1990s, a retired Democratic lawmaker, Paul Rogers of Florida, came up with the notion of doubling the NIH budget in five years, and convinced all the various disease-advocacy groups that a rising tide would lift all boats.

The budget for 2003 was $27.17 billion, up from $13.67 billion for 1998.

The NIH had important Republican supporters such as Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and Representative John Porter of Illinois, as well as Democrats such as Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts and Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa.

Every analysis suggests this huge increase in NIH's budget only improved the high quality of the research work.

The budget constraints and across-the-board cuts under sequestration now are hitting the NIH. The budgetfor the current year is smaller compared with two years ago, in actual numbers, and after adjusting for inflation, the NIH has less money than five years ago.

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Albert R Hunt at