House Subcommittee Discusses CDC Budget; Director Questioned on Gun Violence, HIV/AIDS Research

The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies met on March 25 to consider the administration’s fiscal year (FY) 2016 budget proposal for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In attendance was CDC Director Thomas Frieden, accompanied by Beth Bell, Director of the CDC’s National Center for Zoonotic, Vector-Borne, and Enteric Diseases, and Anne Schuchat, Assistant Surgeon General and Director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.

Subcommittee Chairman Tom Cole (R-OK) praised the CDC in his opening statement for protecting public health in the U.S. and abroad. He noted that while the CDC enjoys bipartisan support from the committee, sequestration remains in place for FY 2016 (at least for the time being) and expressed a desire to ensure taxpayer dollars are not spent on “politically motivated activities.” Ranking Member Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) also spoke about sequestration in her opening statement, calling it “disastrous” and pointing out that CDC has lost $1.35 billion (adjusted for inflation) since 2010.

In his opening statement, Frieden highlighted several of the priorities in the Administration’s budget request for CDC (see COSSA’s analysis), including a $264 million increase to combat antimicrobial resistance and initiatives to address the prescription drug overdose epidemic and hepatitis, promote global public health, and eradicate polio.

Overall, the lines of questioning were cordial, with many Members expressing their support for the work the CDC is doing to promote America’s public health. However, Rep. Scott Ringell (R-VA) took issue with a proposed $10 million increase to support research on the causes of prevention of gun violence. Acknowledging that he supports reducing gun violence, Ringell suggested that the research does not fall within the CDC’s mission. Frieden explained that the program would follow the recommendations laid out in a 2013 Institute of Medicine report on public health research priorities for reducing gun violence. Ringell argued that the research questions surrounding gun violence “don’t require a lot of research,” because they are “obvious by observation” and that the money would be better spent on issues like antibiotic resistance.

Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) also questioned the director on what he saw as “off-mission” research. Citing similar language in the HIV/AIDS research programs’ budget justifications to Congress from the CDC and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Harris asked whether there was duplication between the two agencies. Frieden responded that the White House’s Office of National AIDS Policy implements a National HIV/AIDS Strategy to ensure coordination across the federal government on HIV/AIDS, and that the NIH supports basic research, while the CDC supports research aimed at scaling up programs that have been proven to be effective. Harris took issue with that explanation because the NIH supports behavioral research, which, in his understanding, “is not basic science.” Although, he conceded, “maybe I just have a different idea of what basic science is.”

Additional information, including a webcast of the hearing can be viewed on the Subcommittee website.

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