This vote was on an amendment by Joe Barton, R-Texas, that would prohibit the national Institutes of Health (NIH) from transferring its funding to Department of Health and Human Services agencies through a program known as Evaluation Tap. The amendment was offered to the bill that funds the Labor, Health and Education departments in fiscal 2008.
Barton said he supports robust funding for the NIH, but that a lot of its funding gets "siphoned off."
"The amendment before the body at this point in time would make sure that all of that money actually goes to the NIH. Sadly, a lot of the increase in NIH is going to be immediately siphoned off to two different funds. One is a global AIDS fund, which will take $300 million. The other is called a "tap," which takes about $600 million to another line item outside of NIH. So what this Barton amendment would do was keep that $600 million that would be siphoned off for the tap fund and keep it in the NIH," Barton said.
David Obey, D-Wis., said that money is indeed siphoned off, but that it goes primarily to a NIH-affiliated agency known as the Agency for Health Care Research and Quality (AHRQ). It researches what health care treatments work, what is safe for patients, and how to control costs for medical interventions, particularly those involving Medicare and Medicaid.
"Everybody loves the National Institutes of Health. I do too. But it does no good to any patient if we only concentrate on putting money in the National Institutes of Health and do not see to it that the information produced by the NIH is disseminated adequately to medical practitioners all over the country," Obey said. "It also does no good if in the process of squirreling away this money to NIH we do substantial damage to the public health programs of the United States and if we essentially wipe out the one agency which is doing the research to demonstrate to us how to produce the best treatments and how to produce cost savings that will prevent private medical care and Medicare from going bankrupt."
Some of the "tapped" money also goes to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, which supports occupational and health research and researches ways to bridge the gap between laboratory discoveries and putting those discoveries into practice in the workplace.
By a vote of 181-249, the amendment was rejected. Every Democrat present voted against the amendment. Of Republicans present, 181 voted for the amendment and 19 voted against it. The end result is that the measure went forward without a prohibition on allowing NIH funds to be transferred to other agencies through its Evaluation Tap program.