WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Everybody here seems to be discussing the effect across-the-board budget cuts will have on our military, air traffic controllers and food inspectors. Few though have mentioned how these cuts could in essence throw away research into generic drugs and the treatment and prevention of cancer, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's, which hits the elderly hard.
In Florida alone, there are an estimated 450,000 people suffering from Alzheimer's. But a lot of medical research will in fact be lost or interrupted if spending cuts, or the so-called sequester, goes into effect at federal agencies March 1. That's what Sen. Bill Nelson heard again this morning when a Naples, Florida couple came all the way to Washington, D.C. to speak out against looming cuts in research funding to federal agencies such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
"If common sense doesn't prevail in Congress, it could bring a lot of life-saving medical and scientific research to a halt," Nelson said, after his meeting with Michael Church, a Florida representative of the Parkinson's Action Network. Church and his wife Gretchen each have been diagnosed with early-onset Parkinson's disease. They came to Washington together on Wednesday.
Michael Church told Nelson of three specific agencies that are important to the Parkinson's community. The FDA, for example, approves drugs for people with Parkinson's. "And that would be a nightmare if the promising drugs of the future weren't approved or at least given the opportunity to be approved due to [ budget ] cuts," Church said.
It came to light just this week that the looming federal budget cuts would include $1.6 billion to the NIH, which would result in a 5.1 percent cut to medical research -- and, in particular, cutting-edge research into diseases such as Parkinson's, cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer's. Nelson's office estimates Florida alone will lose $25 million from the NIH for medical research and another $8 million in scientific research.
The cuts are a result of the sequester measure Congress passed during tense debt-ceiling negotiations in 2011. Talks to avert the spending cuts have failed so far. Democrats offered a plan that includes targeted spending cuts with some new revenues, but Republicans are insisting upon a deal without tax increases.
"The main reason we don't have a solution yet is because some in Washington are doing a Kabuki dance," said Nelson, chairman of the Senate Special Committee on Aging. "I think the Senate should pass the plan we've put on the table to avert these impending mandatory budget cuts. Then we can use that to work out a compromise with the House."
On Monday, NIH chief Francis Collins said he's worried that Congress's failure to avert these cuts could also mean fewer young scientists to do the research. The chances of research grants being funded have already fallen to a historically low rate, he said. "A lot of good science just won't be done," Collins said.