House approves

by Michelle Moriarity

Weeks of budget negotiations in Washington, D.C., culminated in Tuesday’s House approval of a $520 billion federal spending package for 1999, which includes a measure that could potentially increase University spending on medical research.
The bill will be signed into law pending Senate and White House approval tonight.
With a vote of 333-95, the House approved a bill that will boost the National Institutes of Health’s budget by almost 15 percent, increasing the institutes’ total 1999 budget to more than $15 billion.
In 1995, the NIH authorized 79 percent of all federal funding for health research and development.
The additional money for the NIH means a deeper pool of funds for the University to tap for basic science and clinical research projects.
“These funds are competitive funds that are put out by federal agencies,” said Tom Etten, the University’s director of federal relations. “That’s the biggest deal.”
As an internationally renowned medical research institution, the University received $125 million from the NIH last year, in spite of its 1995 sanctions against the University after the administration reported the misuse of federal grant money.
The University’s agricultural research programs and the Minnesota Extension Service also stand to benefit from funds extended by Congress.
The bill, which encompasses nearly a third of all federal spending for the 1999 fiscal year, also includes the revisions to the Higher Education Act, which will lower student loan interest rates and raise the maximum Pell grant by $125 next year.
Because Congress missed the standard Oct. 1 budget deadline, legislators established a temporary budget plan effective through Tuesday.
Congress further extended the temporary budget through tonight in order to complete the process before the deadline.
In spite of the House’s approval, some members of Congress displayed overwhelming disapproval of the length of the budget negotiations and the product: a 4,000-page document that legislators said they were unable to review fully before voting.
“I want to count myself as someone who is in profound disagreement with a Congress that basically has been a do-nothing Congress,” Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., said on the Senate floor.
In spite of this disagreement, however, Wellstone communications representative Andrew McDonald said the Senate has no choice but to approve the bill.