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Friday, October 28, 2016

Newt Gingrich recently recalled the bipartisan deal that doubled the budget for the National Institutes of Health — with fondness. This was about 20 years ago, when Bill Clinton was president, and Republicans under Gingrich had just taken over Congress.

Never a member of the Gingrich fan club, I nonetheless join other liberal-minded observers in hailing the former House Speaker not only for not disowning that investment in national greatness but for urging an encore. Gingrich, bless his black little heart, wants the budget doubled again.

About the National Institutes of Health: The NIH is the U.S. agency in charge of biomedical and health-related research. It has 27 institutes and centers, each specializing in its own area — cancer, eyes, allergies, the list goes on.

The NIH has about 6,000 of its own scientists and provides grants for about 300,000 research workers across the country. Its in-house research makes it the biggest biomedical research facility in the world.

The list of NIH triumphs is long. More than a century ago, its scientists developed a diphtheria antitoxin. More recently, they won the international race to crack the genetic code. They’ve fostered vaccines against hepatitis.

So why has funding for NIH been flat since 2003? Because conservative ideologues, in their quest to cut government, don’t much care to distinguish between things that should be cut and things that should not be cut.

The NIH budget over the past 12 years has, in effect, fallen 20 percent. Seeing as over 90 percent of the money goes directly to research, that’s a huge hit on America’s ability to compete in the biomedical sciences. No, the private sector won’t pick up the slack. This is basic research.

Gingrich makes the case that federal support for medical research is a moral, as well as financial, issue. Good man, and guess he’s not running for president this time around.

But the financial piece of the argument is not insignificant. The biggest item in the federal budget is health care. Medicare and Medicaid alone cost taxpayers over $1 trillion a year. An investment in research could bring a high return in savings.

Gingrich offers this example: Over the next four decades, the cost of caring for Alzheimer’s patients is expected to jump 420 percent for Medicare and 330 percent for Medicaid.

“Delaying the average onset of the disease by just five years,” he writes, “would reduce the number of Americans with Alzheimer’s in 2050 by 42 percent, and cut costs by a third.”

Note that these calculations don’t assume a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. That would be wonderful and could happen only if the dollars are spent on research. Today even a billionaire is fairly helpless against the ravages of Alzheimer’s.

NIH-sponsored research could address diabetes, heart disease and cancer, as well.

As Gingrich notes, the NIH is “pioneering the development of immunotherapies, which are already allowing doctors to spur patients’ immune systems to attack cancer and other diseases rather than relying solely on surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.”

NIH researchers have recently discovered a new gene for hepatitis C. Hard to control, hepatitis C often ends in serious liver disease, leaving a liver transplant the only option. Someday gene-based therapies may take the place of these super-expensive operations.

Set aside the potential savings in health care dollars. These therapies can free patients from the grueling treatments now deemed the only hope for containing dread diseases.

Still, there remain ideologues in Congress who would shrink the NIH in service of some simple-minded belief that government is bad. We should ask them to explain themselves.

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at [email protected] To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Web page at 

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr

  • Dominick Vila

    Contrary to what ideologues say, there are many Federal government departments and agencies that provide critical services to our society. The NIH and CDC are two of them. I am not sure that I agree with doubling their budgets, but I am convinced that their budgets should be increased, and kept at a level that allows research doctors to perform the research needed to combat disease, epidemics, and improve our quality of life. Government agencies such as the NIH, CDC, NASA, NOAA, and others deserve our support and gratitude, rather than irrational criticisms by those too ignorant to understand the value of their contributions.

    • TZToronto

      The ideologues probably figure that (1) capitalism (I.e., big pharma) will take up the slack by doing their own research, but they don’t realize that big pharma makes money by selling drugs to treat disease, not to cure it, and (2) billionaires’ money won’t keep them from dying from the same diseases that afflict the poor. Oh, they’ll get better treatment, but when the cures are not available, they’ll die, too. Sometimes government is the only source of funding for the public good.

  • Eleanore Whitaker

    Of course Gingrich wants to double the medical research budgets …NOW…now that he refused to allow the GOP as Speaker of the House to put healthcare reforms on the floor of the House.

    First of all, Gingrich knows that his state is primed for taking in more of our federal tax dollars for medical research that Georgia has only recently discovered can be quite lucrative. He smells tax funds and subsidies.

    The reality is that every pharmaceutical, drug and medical prosthetic, equipment and surgical business in the US already receives funding for research. It’s why their R&D chemists are paid such high annual bonuse.

    Take a good look at how many drugs get pushed onto the public without proper R&D and how many are pushed along by Big Pharma for no reason other than to get patent rights and then jack prices on the trade names. Which wouldn’t be so onerous if it wasn’t for the fact that now all generic drugs are as highly priced as trade name drugs.

    Gingrich sees huge bucks for his state and he knows that it will mean more Confederate overrun on regulation of Big Pharma and the medical “industry.”

  • paulroden

    But if you go by the sick, “compassionate conservative” argument of the Tea Party orthodoxy, unless the department or function of government is clearly, specifically mentioned in the US Constitution or by Constitution Amendment, you can’t have it. So much for the “general welfare clause” and Congress having the power to enact legislation for the common good. Ayn Rand’s “objectivism” and libertarian views of “makers” and takers” is really immoral and sick.

  • charleo1

    Here’s the deal. When ideologues who are ideologues in the first place, largely because they have been too intellectually lazy to bother to have educated themselves, and so are ignoramuses. First, they don’t know what they’re doing, and secondly, are personally too lackadaisical to care. Now, these are very common folk. They might be your Uncle Homer, or Aunt Lizzy, or your next door neighbor. And they may, or may not be nice people, but are basically harmless. In that they don’t effect you, or your family, or certainly not the Country. But then, when these people are put in positions of power, and responsibility. And so are able to impose all that poor education, and laziness, and all that ignorant rigid ideology on the Country, we’ve got a problem. The Country is set back in immeasurable ways. And all this ignorance winds up doing, is hurting all of us. Costing taxpayers, and businesses many more trillions over the long run. And then we all wonder, well some do, why it is the government that once liberated Europe, and put men on the Moon, has become so inept, incompetent, and expensive? Why did we invade Iraq? Or, how did the wealthiest economy in the World find itself in the ditch? Maybe connecting some dots will answer some questions? We could start with my Uncle Homer.

  • juli1

    In the name of all that is decent, NO

    If that monster, Gingrich, has his way, taxpayers will be forced to pay over $24
    billion annually for worthless government experiments like forcing monkeys to
    smoke crack, deafening cats at taxpayer expense, and forcing beagles to run on
    treadmills until they have heart attacks.

    I, for one, do not want my taxes spent on
    pointless torture.

    Peace, Salaam, Shalom, Juli

    “The animals of the
    world exist for their own reasons.
    They were not made for humans any more
    black people were made for whites or women for men.”

    ~ Alice Walker ~

  • Albert Aho

    Yet another casualty in Obama’s personal jihad against medical care:

    • Eleanore Whitaker

      Due to the policies of stupid, that thumbnail Doctor’s office closing is just another bashy boy hater protest. Let me guess what state you live in? Kentucky? Where MItch McConnell dumped the entire cost of his heart surgery on taxpayers back in the mid 2000s? At the most expensive military hospital with the best US healthcare (Walter Reed, before it was closed). Try again Kentucky boy…you KY freeloaders need to get off the gun, booze and horse profits and create real industries …not vice industries.

  • Eleanore Whitaker

    When ideologues stick to one obsessive mantra, their personal agenda is far less mentally stable. Gingrich has no platform for ANY medical comments for one reason, he left not one, but 2 wives who were quite seriously ill. The first wife had cancer and while she was in Chemo, Mr. Womanizer Gingrich didn’t have the guts to stand by her. He was already on to Wife No. 2. When Wife No. 2 became ill with multiple sclerosis, Mr. Womanizer headed out the door for Wife No. 3, a Catholic who convinced him all he had to do was “convert” to Catholicism and “Ego Te Absalvo” (I absolve you of your sins.) Nice Try Gingy….but your sentiments on anything to do with the medical profession reeks of personal back room agenda.

    As for people who hate healthcare reform, you know why they hate it…they actually have to be responsible and PAY for THEIR OWN healthcare instead of dumping the costs on everyone else..Today, 16 million Americans who had NO access to affordable healthcare pay for their own healthcare insurance premiums. But Georgia’s fat face Gingy hates that GA has to use some of its gun manufacturing profits to pay for their indigents’ healthcare now that dumping it on blue state taxpayers isn’t allowed.