President George W. Bush today vetoed a $151 billion spending bill to fund the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, and other health and education programs in 2008, calling the measure fiscally irresponsible. The bill now goes back to Congress, where Democrats will need to either attract enough Republican votes to make a new version veto-proof or revise the bill to the president's satisfaction. In the meantime, NIH must hold spending to 2007 levels.
The appropriations legislation would have provided $30 billion for NIH, 3.8% more than its current budget and its largest raise in 5 years. The additional $1.1 billion for NIH would have reversed the $279 million cut that Bush had requested in February and even tops what the Senate and the House had approved separately. About $200 million of the increase would be passed along to the international Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria. Also included in the bill was $111 million for the National Children's Study, a project not funded in the president's request, and $531 million for NIH's crosscutting Roadmap.
The bill also contained a significant NIH policy revision. It would have made mandatory an NIH request that grantees submit a copy of their manuscripts so that the agency can post them in a free public archive no later than a year after publication. Most investigators are ignoring the policy. Journal publishers have argued that they could be driven out of business--a view that the president seemed to endorse in comments on the legislation before it passed, warning of "the possible impact ... on scientific research publishing." Advocates of so-called open access predict the requirement will be retained in the final spending bill.
Senate appropriators earlier dropped a provision that would have expanded the number of human embryonic stem cell lines eligible for federal funding. The current policy limits funding to lines developed before August 2001.
The biomedical research community is "obviously disappointed" by the veto, says David Moore, head of governmental relations for the Association of American Medical Colleges in Washington, D.C. "We will work with everybody else who has a stake in the bill to try to convince Congress to override the veto." Moore says that supporters are close to the two-thirds majority needed but acknowledges that some Republicans may be swayed by the president's assertion that "this bill spends too much."
Meanwhile, scientific societies are urging Congress to finish other appropriations bills that give boosts to science agencies such as the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology and hoping that the president won't veto them. Fiscal year 2008 began on 1 October, and agencies are now required to maintain spending at 2007 levels under a continuing resolution that expires on 14 December.