By Lyle Dennis, Cavarocchi – Ruscio – Dennis Associates, Consultants to AASLD
One of the questions we hear most frequently in our business is some variation on this: With all of the chaos that is going on in Washington DC these days, how is it possible to keep it all straight and to get anything accomplished?
Much like Benjamin Braddock in The Graduate was told, “One word: Plastics,” we are driven by one word: “Focus.”
If we had to pay attention to every Tweet from the President; which White House official has resigned, been fired or been indicted; what is happening in the Special Counsel’s Russian probe; what is going on with the North Koreans, the Iranians, and the “s—hole” countries in Africa; what is included in the infrastructure plan; are NFL players standing or kneeling; and, who paid off the porn star before the 2016 election, we could not do it.
But, if you filter out all that noise (professionally; it may be impossible to block it all 24 hours a day!), you can zero in on what matters (funding and policy issues related to liver disease), develop a plan to get you from here to there and implement the plan aggressively with our advocacy partners. It is then possible to have success. And that is what we have done.
When Congress enacted the Budget Control Act of 2011, the conventional wisdom was that sequestration (the DC word for across-the-board budget cuts) would never be implemented as it was too draconian to be allowed to occur. But they did occur and the National Institutes of Health, for example, lost $1.5 billion (five percent) of its funding literally overnight. And then we all got focused.
In 2013, 2015 and 2017 (slipping slightly into 2018), the community came together behind the mantra “Raise the Caps,” and pressed Congress to increase the amount of money that could be spent, particularly with regard to our major funding category: Non-Defense discretionary spending. The new budget deal lifts the caps for FY18 and FY19. It took two short government shutdowns and a lot of focus to do it, but it is now done…except it is not completely done.
The caps are raised, but the government continues to operate under a Continuing Resolution (CR) through March 23 – funded at FY17 levels, which is effectively a cut. The remaining step to be done is the enactment of an Omnibus Appropriations bill that will fund all government agencies for the rest of the fiscal year.
That has now become our primary focus. Based on all the work we have done since the President’s budget recommendations came out in May 2017, we have every reason to believe that this year will mark the third consecutive year of $2.0 billion increases for the NIH budget. It has been a rocky road to get here but we never took our eyes off the prize.
And, if you remember the last scene in The Graduate, when Benjamin and Elaine are sitting in the back of the bus having escaped from Elaine’s wedding and looking bewildered because they had no idea where they were going or what they doing, we already have our next focus: the President’s FY19 budget was released on February 12 and it is, again, inadequate to meet the needs in biomedical research.
One word: Focus.