U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin received a standing ovation Monday morning in front of Illinois University School of Medicine faculty members after the Springfield Democrat explained his proposed $150 billion initiative to boost federal spending on scientific research.
“If America is going to remain the world’s leader in cutting-edge biomedical research, we must make federal funding for medical research a national priority,” Durbin told the audience of 150 people in the medical school’s South Auditorium in Springfield.
The U.S. Senate’s No. 2 Democrat a few weeks ago introduced legislation that would enact the America Cures Act, which would, according to Durbin, “create a mandatory fund to provide steady, predictable funding for breakthrough research” at the nation’s top four biomedical research agencies.
The legislation would benefit the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Department of Defense health programs and the Department of Veterans Affairs’ biomedical research arm.
SIU officials said the initiative, if it becomes law, would make it easier for SIU faculty to land federal grants in what has become an extremely competitive process nationwide.
Half of the $150 billion would be paid for with a proposed 95-cent increase in the current $1.01-per-pack federal tax on cigarettes and other tobacco products, Durbin said.
The other half would be funded with the money saved by closing some corporate tax loopholes, he said.
The White House hasn’t indicated formal support or opposition to the plan. And in Congress, only Democrats have shown support for it, Durbin said.
Federal research funding has lagged behind inflation for years, he said, allowing other nations to jeopardize America’s standing in scientific research into cures and other treatments for illnesses ranging from Alzheimer’s disease and hearing loss to heart disease.
The proposed $150 billion funding stream over 10 years would allow for a 5 percent annual growth in real, inflation-adjusted dollars for scientific research, Durbin said.
Beyond the prestige of future scientific discoveries and innovation, the United States needs to continue to benefit from the jobs and spin-off businesses that are linked to spending on scientific research, Durbin said.
Countries such as China are beginning to steal for themselves those jobs and benefits, he said.
Durbin began talking about the proposed initiative this spring.