U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt says that he wants to use his key position on the Senate Appropriations Committee to boost funding for research.
The Republican senator recently became the chairman an Appropriations subcommittee that controls federal funding for the National Institutes of Health. He said during a visit to Washington University’s Alzheimer’s Research Center that he wants to make funding for the agency a priority.
“I think we’ve fallen behind a little in the last few years,” Blunt said.
Blunt heard from people who either have Alzheimer’s or have family members afflicted with the disease. He said increasing federal research dollars to fight the disease “is both going to be certainly one of my priorities, but I also think it will be National Institutes of Health’s priority as we move into the coming years.
“I’ve heard some of these stories before,” said Blunt, referring to testimony Monday from St. Louisans who want more Alzheimer’s research funding. “But it’s always helpful if you’re doing my job to actually be able to repeat stories that you heard from people, rather than say ‘I think this is what’s probably happening.’ It’s more persuasive. It’s more impactful. It’s more helpful.”
With the Republicans in control of both chambers of Congress for the first time during President Barack Obama’s presidency, Blunt’s party will have more power to shape federal spending. He said funding for NIH “doubled” the last time Republican controlled both congressional chambers.
“And I think Republicans generally were pleased to be able to talk about that as one of those congressional accomplishments that was made under that Congress,” Blunt said. “But hopefully, this is a bigger issue than who’s in control of the Congress. And it’s just a matter of how you prioritize some of the funding.”
Blunt says Congress could operate with funding caps, which means that increases to certain departments would require decreases elsewhere. But he said that could present an opportunity for the GOP-controlled Congress. (Although it remains to be seen whether those caps will remain it place.)
“There’s nothing wrong, frankly, with looking at that spending budget and finding those things that either duplicative or not as essential and trying to prioritize,” Blunt said. “It’s what we all have to do in our own lives. And it’s important for the Congress to be willing to do the same kind of prioritization with how the Congress spends other people’s money, which is basically the money that we’re dealing with.”
Randall Bateman, a professor of neurology at Washington University, said the fact that there’s more interest in fighting Alzheimer’s disease within the federal government “is a huge positive sign for all of us, not just those of us who are in research.”
“For the potential to actually treat and prevent the disease is very important,” Bateman said. “A senator’s role in helping shape what the national funding goals are for the National Institutes of Health changes the focus on research and the course of the disease. So prevention and treatment as opposed to paying out for the cost of the disease now.”
Blunt said NIH director Francis Collins will testify before his committee next week.