When Rep. Dennis Ross (R-FL) toured Tampa’s Moffitt Cancer Center on Monday, he was likely hoping to connect with his constituents during the August recess. Instead, he ended up hearing quite a few critiques from cancer researchers who say that deep sequester cuts are currently undermining their work.
Since Congress failed to reach a deal to avert the sequester, deep across-the-board cuts are currently compromising everything from fighting wildfires to enrolling kids in Heart Start. Thanks to an 8.2 percent cut to the National Institute of Health (NIH), medical research has been similarly undermined. Before the sequester cuts kicked in this spring, scientists warned that slashing NIH’s funds could set back scientific innovation for a generation.
On Monday, researchers at Moffitt Cancer Center echoed many of those concerns. Moffitt currently gets about $62 million in cancer research grants — but, since well over half of that comes from the NIH, sequestration has thrown much of its funds into question. Researchers told their congressman that’s preventing them from being able to improve outcomes for cancer patients.
“We had a large grant for multiple lung cancer projects, (but) we’re having trouble getting it renewed because there’s just not enough money in the pot for that,” Eric Haura, a practicing oncology doctor, told Ross during his visit on Monday. “Less money is less science. It’s as simple as that.”
“It’s definitely harder to get a grant,” post-doctoral research fellow Daniel Verduzco explained. “We’ve been feeling the pain. My boss tells me you’ve just got to try to be really frugal with your experiments.”
Ross told the researchers that once Congress returns in September, he hopes to work on reversing the recent cuts to NIH. “We’ve got to keep the investment in NIH a priority,” he said.
In fact, lawmakers have already acted swiftly to reverse some of sequestration’s damage — but only when it comes to the cuts that directly impact them. Back in April, Congress voted to restore funding to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) after sequester cuts created long lines at the airport that made their travel more difficult. They didn’t save other domestic programs from similar spending cuts, including ones that directly impact the Americans battling cancer. Cancer clinics — many of which have been forced to delay chemotherapy treatment as a result of sequester cuts — strongly criticized the move, saying that lawmakers should have taken care of their patients before taking care of airport delays.