With Sequestration, Parkinson's Research Funding at Risk for Deep Cuts

The Parkinson’s Action Network (PAN) is an active voice in the fight for strong federal biomedical research funding at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).  Despite the advocacy community’s best efforts, for the past nine years NIH funding has not kept pace with inflation and the deep, ripple effect of this lack of growth has long-term consequences for the discovery of better treatments and cures.

PAN, in coordination with colleague and partner organizations across the country, is calling for the Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 budget to include $32 billion for the NIH.  As budget negotiations continue, there has been a lot of talk about “sequestration” – a budget term that may be unfamiliar to many Americans, and if invoked would have catastrophic impact on Parkinson’s research.

In the Q&A below, we’ll explain what sequestration is, why sequestration matters to the Parkinson’s community, and what advocates can do to ensure that biomedical research is not harmed even further:

What is sequestration?

When referring to the federal budget, “sequestration” is an automatic spending cut if the total of all appropriations bills exceeds the limits Congress gave itself for the annual budget.  If the annual budget exceeds the limit, Congress must agree on ways to bring the budget in line with the limits they have set, or the automatic spending cuts go into effect. 

This fiscal policy procedure came about in 1985 as part of the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Deficit Reduction Act.  Since its creation, sequestration has not yet ever been invoked; instead, Congress raises the spending caps at the end of each legislative session to match the totals already appropriated. 

When you read or hear about “sequestration” in the news today, it refers to the automatic budget cuts passed into law under the Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011.  The BCA contained agreements on federal spending levels and the debt ceiling, and it created the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction.  This bipartisan “Super Committee” made up of Members of the House and Senate, was instructed to reduce deficits by an additional $1.2 trillion.  The sequestration procedure was put in place as a backup in case the Committee did not reach its $1.2 trillion goal.

Why and when is sequestration scheduled to occur?

Because the Super Committee failed to achieve its goal, sequestration – automatic cuts that apply largely across the board – is scheduled to start January 2, 2013 and run through the year 2021 unless Congress reaches annual spending agreements before then.

How big would the spending cuts be, and how does Congress decide?

In theory, every federal agency will have the same percentage of its appropriation withheld in across-the-board cuts. 

Broadly speaking, we expect these across-the-board cuts will mean approximately an 8% cut in most affected non-Defense discretionary programs, including NIH funding.  The cuts will also hit the Department of Defense Neurotoxin Exposure Treatment Parkinson's Research (NETPR) program, the only Parkinson’s-specific granting program in the federal government.

There are a few exempted program areas (Social Security, Medicare benefits, and some parts of the Defense budget, among others), but all other federal agencies and programs will shoulder the across-the-board cuts.
Forcing across-the-board cuts means Congress won’t have to do what every American household has had to do in these difficult economic times – make the tough decisions about what kinds of things can and cannot be cut from a budget.  Across-the-board cuts will cause long-lasting damage in the scientific community, and in some cases would “reset the clock” on work toward better treatments and a cure for Parkinson’s and other diseases and disorders.

Biomedical research should not, and must not, be cut. 

What impact will this have on Parkinson’s disease and other biomedical research programs and budgets?  Will NIH take a big hit?

If sequestration happens, NIH Director Francis Collins has stated that it’s estimated that the NIH budget would be cut by nearly 8% -- meaning a quarter of all the grants that NIH issues in 2013 would not be funded.

This would be catastrophic for biomedical research. 

Scientific research is progressive and builds upon years of work.  You can’t just hold back or temporarily stop working on research projects for a year, or more, and then expect to start up on them again and pick up where you left off.  Science doesn’t work that way.

In addition to the grants NIH gives to researchers, NIH funding often helps encourage private-sector and other investments in research projects.  If NIH funding on a Parkinson’s research project gets cut, that project is at risk for losing outside investment, as well.

If and when sequestration occurs, current research projects would have to come to a halt and likely would not be picked up again in future years when and if sequestration is lifted.  Biomedical research is not something that can just be stopped and started on a whim.

Sequestration cuts to NIH funding for even one year could, in effect, wipe out decades of work on a cure for Parkinson’s, and other diseases or disorders.

Is there anything I can do to prevent these drastic cuts?

Yes!  In fact, your voice is critical and important, and we urge you to take action now.

Because Congress put sequestration into place, another act of Congress is required to undo the trigger.  Additionally, because the spending cuts will be based on FY 2013 funding levels, it is imperative to ask your Representative and Senators to support increased NIH funding at a level of $32 billion.

Members of Congress are back in their home states for most of the month of August.  During that time, PAN encourages you to set up a meeting or call with your Representative and Senators to tell them how important biomedical research funding is for you, the Parkinson’s community, and the larger neurological disease community.

Speak up, and let your voice be heard! 

Click here to see PAN’s Action Alert, and read our easy instructions for how to call and what to say to your Members of Congress about this critically important issue.


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