For attempting to keep members of the House of Representatives from questioning the funding of controversial grants to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Congressmen C.W. Bill Young (R-FL) and Ralph Regula (R-OH) were named “Porkers of the Month” for September 2004 by Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW), a taxpayers’ advocacy organization.
Young is chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. Regula chairs the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (Labor/HHS) Subcommittee. The two policymakers tried to block questioning of grant funding during consideration of the Fiscal Year 2005 Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education and Related Agencies (Labor/HHS) Appropriations Act.
A year earlier, when the House debated the fiscal 2004 version of the bill, Rep. Pat Toomey (R-PA) had proposed an amendment, defeated by two votes, that would have prohibited the NIH from funding four studies: “Mood Arousal and Sexual Risk Taking,” “Study on Sexual Habits of Older Men,” “Study on San Francisco’s Asian Prostitutes/Masseuses,” and “Study on American Indian Transgender Research.”
Young and Regula claimed they were not prepared to answer detailed questions about the grants because they had not received “timely” notice beforehand.
Chairmen Asked for No Amendments
In an effort to head off such “surprise” amendments this year, Young and Regula sent a letter (obtained by CAGW) to members of the House asking that they refrain from offering amendments, in order to pass the Labor/HHS bill “in a timely fashion.” In recent years, Congress seldom has passed appropriations bills on time.
The letter stated any member who had questions about grants should contact NIH Director Dr. Elias Zerhouni, who had already “provided information to Congress about the grants in question” during Appropriations Committee hearings. Alternatively, members were directed to contact the committee itself.
Zerhouni has vigorously defended funding of such grants in the past. When previously questioned by members of Congress, he repeatedly referred them to a letter in which he argued the grants questioned by Toomey, and similar research, provide critical contributions to the study of sexually transmitted diseases and behavioral problems.
Although that may be true of some of the studies to be funded by the bill, members of Congress are obligated to question the validity of grants to the NIH, or any other agency, to determine if they merit federal funding.
Ominous Message to Committee Members
The Appropriations Committee is already widely acknowledged as the most powerful in the House, as it determines which projects are funded in the budget. Consent by members to accept the committee’s decisions without questioning their provisions would increase its power further. The committee’s indifference to questions also sends an underlying message that any member who challenges an appropriator may not receive funding for a requested project in the future.
Last year, Regula said during debate on Toomey’s amendment that micromanaging a few NIH grants “would set a dangerous precedent and put a chill on medical research.”
“For putting the big chill on their colleagues by bullying, threatening, coercing, and intimidating them to forego frank and open discussion on the House floor, Citizens Against Government Waste declares Young and Regula to be Porkers of the Month for September 2004,” said CAGW President Tom Schatz.
Tom Finnigan ([email protected]) works in media relations for Citizens Against Government Waste.