The Administration will ask Congress to strip the National Cancer Institute of the extra powers it was granted by the National Cancer Act of 1971, unless President Nixon over-rules HEW Secretary Caspar Weinberger and Asst. Secretary for Health Charles Edwards.
The three-year authorization of the act expires next June 30. There is no question it will be renewed, but Edwards has publicly denounced the independence NCI enjoys, particularly in development of its budget. The 1971 act prohibits NIH and HEW from making any changes in the institute’s budget request. Only the President, through the Office of Management & Budget, may revise NCI’s figures before it goes to Congress.
Edwards insists that the cancer program should be part of his overall “national health strategy,” competing for funds on an equal basis with other programs.
The Cancer Newsletter has learned that Edwards, with Weinberger’s support, intends to press for a revision that will put NCI back on the same level as other NIH institutes. This would give Edwards veto power over every item in the cancer budget. Edwards has left little doubt that he would exercise that power, on some items at least, if he has the chance.
The provision permitting NCI to bypass NIH and HEW in the budget making process was a compromise engineered by Rep. Paul Rogers, chairman of the House Health Subcommittee. The Senate had previously passed a bill that would have taken NCI completely out of NIH and made it virtually an independent agency, responsible only to the President and Congress. Nixon supported that plan, later changing his mind when Rogers prevailed on Congress to go along with his less drastic measure.
The National Cancer Advisory Board has recommended only minor changes in the act-minor except for new authorized expenditures. The act authorized $400 million in fiscal 1972, $500 million in 1973 and $600 million in 1974. (Actual appropriations were considerably less-$378 million the first year, $432 million the second and no more than $551 million the third.)
NCAB’s recommendations would permit spending $750 million in fiscall975, $830 million in 1976 and $985 million in 1977. “We wanted to avoid the $1 billion barrier for psychological reasons,” said Sol Spiegelman, NCAB member who headed the subcommittee that made up the recommendations. Spiegelman is director of Columbia’s Institute of Cancer Research.
Other proposed changes included increasing authorization for cancer control programs ($40 million authorized in 1974 to $50 million in fiscal1975, $65 million in 197 6 and $85 million in 1977). Another would remove the limit of 15 placed on the number of new research and demonstration centers, permitting the director to approve more than 15 if he sees fit.
Rep. Jack Brinkley (D.-Ga.) has introduced a bill (H.R. 10746) that would go much farther than the original Senate measure. It would : establish an independent agency, the “National Cancer Research Administration”; impose a “cancer eradication tax surcharge” on individual and corporate income for five years; devote income derived therefrom, an estimated total of $15 billion, to cancer research.
This bill has practically no chance, probably will not even be called up for consideration by Rogers’ subcommittee.