Maryland lawmakers appear to be on same page opposing NIH cuts

Congressman Andy Harris of Maryland speaking at the 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. Photo by Gage Skidmore/ Flickr NATIONAL HARBOR, Maryland - Rep. Andy Harris, R-Cokeysville, speaking at the 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

By: Talia Richman

WASHINGTON – Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings blasted President Donald Trump’s budget proposal Wednesday, calling the White House plan to cut money from the National Institutes of Health “heartless.”

The president’s budget blueprint, released earlier this month, would reduce NIH funds by nearly $6 billion for fiscal year 2018 – almost 20 percent of the Bethesda-based center’s budget.

“Today, the single biggest danger we face in fighting cancer and other deadly diseases in this country is President Trump’s budget,” said Cummings, D-Baltimore, during a congressional hearing on cancer research. “Congress must reject the devastating cuts to NIH proposed by President Trump.”

Other Maryland Democrats have also also pressed the president to change his mind about the NIH cuts. The agency employs about 18,000 people in the state, and directs hundreds of millions of research dollars to Maryland universities.

“Both Democrats and Republicans agree that slashing funding for America’s premier research institutes will hurt the agency’s ability to fund multi-year projects and retain young, talented researchers,” Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen wrote in a joint letter to Trump on March 17.

The two senators invited Trump to visit the NIH’s main campus, which they called “the crown jewel of biomedical research around the world.”

The Maryland congressional delegation’s lone Republican, Rep. Andy Harris, of Cockeysville, was reportedly in the running to lead the medical research center under the new administration, and met with Trump in early January. At this time, Dr. Francis Collins, appointed by President Barack Obama, remains at the helm.

Harris said Wednesday that he plans to work with fellow members of the House Appropriations Committee to secure funding for the agency’s “invaluable” work. Harris, a Johns Hopkins-educated anesthesiologist, is the only member of Congress who has conducted NIH-funded research.

“While President Trump’s budget proposal may have included cuts to NIH funding, it is important for Americans to remember that Congress alone has authority over the appropriations process, and the actual budget formed by Congress is often very different from the President’s initial proposal,” Harris said in a statement to Capital News Service.

Trump’s blueprint calls for a “major reorganization of NIH’s Institutes and Centers to help focus resources on the highest priority research and training.” This includes eliminating the Fogarty International Center in Bethesda, which facilitates research among health institutions across the globe, and consolidating other agencies.

“I believe there are few investments more significant than the investments we make in biomedical research,” Cummings said. “The work of NIH is transformational, with the power to turn ideas into cures. Our investments increase our understanding, and they reduce the burden of disease around the world.”