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Vol. LXV, No. 5
March 1, 2013
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Cardin Cheers NIH Workforce at Town Hall Meeting, Hopes Sequestration Can Be Avoided

On the front page...

Sen. Ben Cardin (r, D-MD) and NIH director Dr. Francis Collins were present for a Feb. 8 Town Hall meeting.

Sen. Ben Cardin (r, D-MD) and NIH director Dr. Francis Collins were present for a Feb. 8 Town Hall meeting.

At his second NIH Town Hall appearance in 17 months, and his fourth official campus visit during that time, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) on Feb. 8 assured a Masur Auditorium audience of his enthusiastic support for the NIH workforce and its mission and his optimism that Congress and President Obama can find an alternative to painful budget cuts required by sequestration, due to take effect Mar. 1.

Cardin spent the first 20 minutes of the hour-long session thanking employees for “world-class” research that has made inroads in cancer, heart disease, HIV/AIDS and mental health and giving a budget deficit overview. He had arrived at NIH earlier in the morning and been given a tour of the Clinical Research Center, meeting physicians and patients.

Continued...

He outlined how, since an Aug. 31, 2011, NIH Town Hall visit, some $2.5 trillion of deficit reduction has been realized, and how a combination of new revenues and spending cuts could slice deeply enough into the remaining deficit to offset sequestration, which would require NIH to cut its spending by at least 5 percent in the remaining 7 months of FY 2013. NIH director Dr. Francis Collins said the cuts would amount to some $1.6 billion, “a severely stressful situation.”

“I first came here to say thank you,” said Cardin. “I know Congress has a strange way of saying thank you…This deficit was not caused by our federal workforce—you’re not responsible for that deficit,” he said, to applause.

Cardin (l) meets in the CRC medical board room with (from l) Collins, NIH principal deputy director Dr. Lawrence Tabak, NCI director Dr. Harold Varmus, NIAID director Dr. Anthony Fauci and NHLBI director Dr. Gary Gibbons. Dr. Marston Linehan welcomes Cardin to the Urologic Oncology Branch, NCI.
Cardin (l) meets in the CRC medical board room with (from l) Collins, NIH principal deputy director Dr. Lawrence Tabak, NCI director Dr. Harold Varmus, NIAID director Dr. Anthony Fauci and NHLBI director Dr. Gary Gibbons.

Dr. Marston Linehan welcomes Cardin to the Urologic Oncology Branch, NCI.

Photos: Bill Branson

While the cuts mandated by sequestration “were never intended to take effect,” he said, “we’re at the day of judgment… [Sequestration] would cause significant damage to our country, to our military readiness, to our essential services and to our economy. The cuts at NIH alone could mean the loss of [thousands of] jobs…We need to substitute a rational plan for these irrational cuts.”

Cardin shared details of the President’s budget plan, in advance of Obama’s State of the Union address, including: more tax revenue, elimination of tax breaks and loopholes, military savings associated with ending the war in Afghanistan in 2014 and, critically, reining in health care costs.

“But the prognosis of getting all of this done by Mar. 1 is not bright,” Cardin warned. “It’s not likely.”

He said he would support a short-term plan that avoids sequestration.

“[Budget] predictability is important for the work you do here,” he stated. “We really need to reconcile our differences and get this job done. Gridlock never created a single job in America.”

Cardin and Collins then took seats on the Masur stage and took nearly a dozen questions both from the audience and via email. Collins wondered whether, despite his more than 200 visits with elected representatives in recent years, Congress fully appreciated the consequences of curtailing promising medical research.

In addition to the Feb. 8 Town Hall, Cardin was at NIH Sept. 24, 2012, for an announcement on Medical Center Metro tunnel funding; Sept. 8, 2012, for the Celebration of Science; and Aug. 31, 2011, for his first Town Hall meeting here.
In addition to the Feb. 8 Town Hall, Cardin was at NIH Sept. 24, 2012, for an announcement on Medical Center Metro tunnel funding; Sept. 8, 2012, for the Celebration of Science; and Aug. 31, 2011, for his first Town Hall meeting here.

“I’m afraid many Americans don’t personalize what’s done [at NIH],” Cardin replied. “They live in the moment. But the majority of Americans do appreciate the work done here. The more you can do to underscore [NIH achievements], the stronger your voice will be.”

Cardin gave as an example the prospect of developing a universal flu vaccine. “That’s extremely exciting to me,” he said.

Asked how federal workers could most effectively protest sequestration, Cardin answered, “You have been the scapegoat for every problem—it’s outrageous. Look, put a face on this. The attack is on the government, not on what you do…You’re on the front lines of public service. Speak out.”

Cardin urged more citizens to object to tax proposals that result in “25 percent of tax expenditure benefits going to the top 1 percent of income.”

An email from an employee of the Office of Research Services decried the cost of sequester-related planning expenses. Replied Cardin, “Dr. Collins just whispered to me—‘That’s true.’ We want your creative people here to focus on their work.” Contingency planning, he said, is a distraction.

Asked how sequestration would affect NIH, Cardin said there were two options, both of them poor: cutting back on grant funding and “a horrible option—furloughs without pay. There really are no good options.”

Cardin concluded, “Our economy is recovering. The stock market is rebounding, there’s job growth, housing is improving. A reasonable [deficit-reduction] plan, and it’s not a difficult policy choice to make, will allow our economy to take off. I believe we’ll get there, I really do. I’m optimistic we’ll get it right…Thank you all for being on the front line… [for] being understanding and serving the public.”


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