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Capitol Hill Update March 13, 2009

This week, the U.S. Senate finally approved funding for nine agencies of the federal government for the remainder of fiscal year 2009. The $410 billion package, delayed for over a week by debate over earmarks, boosts funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to $30.3 billion, a $938 million increase over last year’s total. That higher amount included a $186 million increase (for a total of $4.968 billion) for the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

Over and above this funding is the $700 billion stimulus package, requested by the President and passed by Congress two weeks ago to jump start the economy. Under that funding stream, NIH will receive an additional $10.4 billion for additional biomedical research into diseases such as cancer, heart, Alzeheimers and Parkinsons, renovations to federal and non-federal research facilities and research into the comparative effectiveness of drugs, diagnostics and treatment protocols.

LCA was joined by 14 other lung cancer organizations in writing to the Acting Director of NIH, Dr. Raynard S. Kington, and the Director of NCI, Dr. John E. Niederhuber in urging that $100 million in additional funding be set aside for lung cancer research.

With all that funding going into NIH and NCI, major agencies of the Department of Health and Human Service (HHS), filling the now long vacant position of HHS Secretary becomes even more urgent. Last week the President nominated Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius to the post but the Senate, which must vote on the nomination, has not yet scheduled hearings.

Meanwhile reports this week indicated that President Barack Obama plans to nominate former New York City health commissioner Margaret Hamburg to head the Food and Drug Administration. 

Healthcare reform continues to pick up steam as many members of the House and Senate who as recently as February were predicting it would take 3 to 4 years to complete are now talking about a package of reforms by this fall.