Videos & Speeches
Mar 21 2013
I have filed an amendment, No. 233, that I would like to visit with my colleagues about this evening. I am pleased we are debating a budget and that budgets have great purposes in individual and business lives, and they are certainly important to us as we try to solve the country's fiscal problems. A budget is a document that determines how much money we have to spend and how we are going to spend it; in determining how we are going to spend money, we establish priorities.
I want to talk about one of my priorities for the investment of our taxpayer dollars. Kansans and citizens from across the country pay their taxes. In many ways, they would be pleased by having to pay taxes if they knew the money was being well spent. One of the areas where I strongly believe we can prioritize and that money can be well spent is in support of the National Institute for Health. We have a tremendous opportunity to continue to lead in the world's research to solve individuals' problems with their health, with the treatment of disease, in eradicating disease, and treating the people of our country and really the people of our world.
This amendment I am going to discuss adds $1.4 billion in spending for the National Institutes of Health. Our citizens and our country face a significant challenge. There is not a family in our nation who has not suffered from the consequences of cancer and other horrendous diseases. We have seen tremendous success. America leads the world in finding cures and treatments for those diseases.
A problem is that funding for NIH has remained at a virtual standstill since 2010. In my view, those who come to Congress with the desire to make sure that every dime, every nickel is wisely spent, and those who come to Congress with the belief that we need to care for people and provide compassion to all, can come together and jointly agree that money spent on the National Institutes of Health is both. It is a sense of providing well-being, comfort, care, and treatment for people who desperately need that, and it’s the realization that when we invest in research, in projects that ultimately cure a disease, that we are saving money. We save money by curing and treating diseases, which then means that the cost of health care is reduced.
Long before Congress passed a so-called health care reform bill, I outlined to my constituents in Kansas what we could do to save health care costs. One of the points in my plan was to invest in medical research because money invested today in research saves lives and reduces costs.
There is also the reality that the United States of America is the place to do research. But we are facing tremendous challenges because of the flat line of NIH spending and the lack of real dollars available for medical research. In fact, we have to worry that there is a brain drain, once again, going on in the United States. Other countries are investing. Other countries with more difficult economic challenges than ours are increasing their funding for medical research.
I have always worried that if we do not compete, if we do not maintain a steady opportunity for research scientists in the United States, we will lose the edge and the economic and health benefits that come from having that edge in a global economy.
Our own Director of the NIH, Francis Collins—highly regarded and with tremendous background, intellect—has indicated that we are seeing the potential for a brain drain. This is what he said in February of this year, just last month: “since 2003 the NIH budget has basically lost about 20% of its purchasing power by effectively flat budgets that have been eroded by inflation. The consequence of that to grantees to send us their best ideas in hopes of being supported is that their chance of being funded has dropped from about one in three which is where it has been for most of the last 50 years now to about one in six. Imagine yourself as a young investigator—a scientist—with a great idea, ready to tackle it and to do so in your university setting somewhere in the United States knowing that you have only a one in six chance of getting funded, seeing that there seems to be no real clear path forward for achieving stability in the support of biomedical research, wondering whether you can legitimately speak to young people who are wanting to follow your path about whether this is a path they should choose.” Dr. Collins says, “This deeply worries me.”
At a time we need to encourage our children to pursue degrees in education, in science, in research, in medicine, and the absence of continued increase in funding for health research, for biomedical research, we clearly send a message this may not be the career you wish to pursue. At the same time as other countries increase their support for biomedical research, we send a message, even though you decide you want to pursue this career, maybe you should pursue it someplace else. This is a serious problem which desperately needs our attention.
I am going to ask my colleagues to support an amendment which establishes a clear understanding of the value of biomedical research, both again that opportunity to increase the longevity of our lives, to improve the quality of our lives, to combat those diseases that are so devastating to so many families in our country, knowing that when we do that, not only are we improving individual lives, the well-being of families across our nation, but we are also investing in an opportunity to reduce the long-term costs of health care in the United States.
This issue is one of great importance to me, and I can't imagine there is a Senator in our chamber who hasn't experienced the challenges of disease and death in their own families. We have seen tremendous strides in turning this around. It is so clear to me we need to make certain those strides continue. I was pleased to have the Senator from Illinois seek me out on the Senate floor this evening to suggest there is an opportunity for us to work together. While I have an amendment filed, Senator Durbin and I are having a conversation tonight, tomorrow, to see if there is a way we can come together in a joint amendment to fully establish that all of us are in favor of funding the NIH, the National Institutes of Health, at a magnitude, at a level which will again restore us to the forefront of medical research around the globe, will send a message to our students and future scientists that America is the place medical research should occur and where they should pursue their careers. Disease can be conquered and lives can be restored, and most importantly, there may be hope in the United States that the serious and debilitating diseases, the causes of death so many families face day after day and year after year, can be cured and treated.
Madame President, I look forward to those conversations with my colleagues to find the right words to bring us together to demonstrate significant and real support for funding the National Institutes of Health.