Domenici spokesman Matt Letourneau said his boss
“kind of made an oink motion with his hand. It was late. It’s
certainly nothing personal to Senator Specter or to the doctors
The Senate later passed the amendment and the
The NIH has seen its funding more than
double over the last four years, and the agency is slated to get a
big increase at a time when almost all other domestic discretionary
spending other than defense and homeland security is getting level
funding or cuts.
Domenici noted in his speech that equally
important research in the physical sciences gets funded by the
National Science Foundation (NSF), which would get only $3.6 billion
in the Senate’s fiscal year 2005 budget — the same as last year.
That’s far less than the $28.7 billion designated for the
NIH before the $1.5 billion amendment was added.
who has been an advocate for the NSF, which has major research
facilities in New Mexico, also criticized the medical research
industry’s aggressive push for more funding, noting that the
industry has enlisted former House Minority Leader Rep. Bob Michel
(R-Ill.) as a lobbyist.
“You know they wrote these little
brochures out and they ought to be embarrassed,” he said. “They came
to my office, and I told them, ‘You’re lucky you got old Bob Michel
along with you, because as far as you doctors are concerned, I’d
kick you out of here so fast you couldn’t find the door. But I’ll
let Bob stay here for a minute and argue.’”
granted additional time by Budget Chairman Don Nickles (R-Okla.),
Domenici applied the pig analogy to his fellow colleagues, many of
whom look kindly on NIH, which funds and conducts research into
diseases that have struck senators and their families
“Our oink somehow is not full,” he said.
Domenici, a former Budget Committee chairman, said in the current
situation, he would pit popular programs against each other and make
members choose between them.
Domenici’s daughter suffers from
schizophrenia, and Domenici, who also is an appropriator, has pushed
for legislation requiring mental health parity in health
Specter, who heads the Appropriations Labor-HHS
Subcommittee, then took the floor to respond.
“The NIH did
not send this senator anywhere,” he said. “My views arise from my
own research. When I hear the senator from New Mexico disagreeing
with [my] research, I think about how many times he’s come to me and
I’ve helped him on funding for mental health.”
Domenici spoke, Specter had run through efforts by NIH to combat
more than 40 diseases, including autism, stroke, obesity,
Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
Michel, now a senior
counselor and adviser with Hogan & Hartson, expressed an
appreciation for Domenici’s view in an interview. “It’s a rightful
question for the members to say: ‘What are we getting for our
money?’” he said.
Michel, who helped set up the Committee for
Medical Research to fund lobbying on the issue, said he sometimes
asked the same questions when he was in Congress, inquiring of
agencies, “Jeez, you sure you can use all this money? [Are] we
giving you too much? It’s a natural thing, for the Congress to
In 2002, the Committee for Medical Research raised
$306,000, according to the PoliticalMoneyLine
Michel, whose wife recently died of a stroke, said
general medical research was one of the best things Congress can
fund. “For me, it’s been kind of a real labor of love,” he
“There’s no question [that] with our effort here at
doubling [funding] … it gets highlighted,” he added. “Of course it
gets to be a target.”
NIH funding has risen from $12.7
billion in 1997 to $27.9 billion in fiscal year 2004.
Stern, a spokesman for the NIH, said no one represents the agency as
a lobbyist, but people do represent advocacy groups and medical
schools that lobby for greater NIH funding. He declined to respond
to Domenici’s characterization of the agency as “pigs.”
72-year-old Domenici began his floor remarks by declaring that he
normally doesn’t make such strong statements. “I normally get up to
argue a case when I think I can win, and sometimes — not too often —
I get up to argue a case on the floor of the Senate because I think
the case deserves my argument.”
Domenici has been suffering
severe arthritis and pain in his right hand caused by a nerve
problem. A former minor-league baseball pitcher, Domenici recently
injured his hand playing touch football with his grandchildren.
Domenici’s spokesman would not comment on whether Domenici was
taking any pain medication.
During conversations with
reporters last week before his scalding Senate speech, he spoke
frequently about his pain and at times appeared to be suffering.