Durbin Slams Proposed Republican Budget Cuts that Would Devastate Medical Research

This morning, Durbin met with Illinoisan Brian Wallach, founder of I AM ALS, to discuss medical research funding for ALS treatments

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), a member of the Senate ALS Caucus, today delivered a speech on the Senate floor about the importance of robust federal funding for medical research to advance treatments for neurodegenerative diseases like ALS.  In his remarks, Durbin also called out Speaker McCarthy’s budget proposal which could drastically slash funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and other important medical research.  

Durbin opened his speech by thanking founder of ‘I AM ALS’ and Illinois constituent Brian Wallach for visiting Washington today to continue his relentless advocacy for medical advancements for ALS patients and their families.  Durbin shared Wallach’s story, reiterating the importance of investing in a cure for rare diseases.   

“This morning, I had a visit in my office from Brian Wallach.  Brian Wallach and his wife Sandra have been dealing with the diagnosis, of more than six years ago, of ALS.  Brian is still with us, thank goodness, because of his determination and the determination of his family. Brian is an unusual and extraordinary person.  He was working in the Obama White House with Sandra when they decided to marry, and he is an exceptionally talented individual as is his wife, Sandra,” Durbin said.  “When the diagnosis was handed down, it was a few days before they brought home their baby from the hospital, their little girl, six years ago, but they were determined that Brian would see as much of her life as possible, even though he had been diagnosed with ALS.  So they created an organization known as ‘I AM ALS’ and set out with an agenda to beat the disease.”

“Brian has been an amazing fighter in dealing with that disease and trying to find ways to cure himself, but basically to cure others who might be diagnosed in years to come,” Durbin continued.  “Their focus is on many different areas, but primarily it’s on medical research.  What they've achieved when it comes to medical research, just the two of them with their organization and many supporters across the United States, is nothing short of remarkable.”

Durbin went on to praise the activism work ‘I AM ALS’ has done, which has led to breakthroughs in treatment for those diagnosed with ALS.  After a five-year period in which no new ALS drugs were approved, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently approved two new ALS treatment drugs, Relyvrio and Tofersen.

Durbin has long been a supporter of medical research, and he has continuously worked on a bipartisan basis to ensure that NIH and federal research institutes have the proper funding to help develop new cures and treatments for patients in need.  With the support of former Republican Senators Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Democratic Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Durbin has repeatedly secured an annual five percent increase in the budget for NIH.  Over the past eight years, Durbin has helped secure a nearly 60 percent funding increase for NIH.

“The reason I tell that story and the fact that Brian was just in my office is fresh in my mind as I hear the debate on the floor of the United States Senate about our federal budget.  An important part of our federal budget is for the National Institutes of Health.  This is the premier medical research agency in the world.  I'm proud of the fact that it is in the United States, and every day it is responsible for dramatic breakthroughs against diseases and illnesses all across the spectrum, all across the United States... Their discovery of new drugs for ALS is one indication of the good work that they do,” Durbin said.

“Francis Collins was head of NIH for years… He is so good that presidents - conservatives, moderate, liberal – all of them wanted Francis Collins to head up the National Institutes of Health, which he did remarkably,” Durbin continued.  “I said to him, ‘I think your work is one of the most important assignments in the federal government. What can I do?’  He said, ‘Senator, if you can give me five percent real growth in NIH budgeting each year, my researchers will continue their inspired work to find new cures and new drugs that will help people.  I set out to do that with Roy Blunt, a Republican, Lamar Alexander, a Republican, and Patty Murray, who has been our North Star when it comes to medical research.  We said let's try to achieve the goal of five percent real growth each year with the National Institutes of Health.  We were lucky in the last ten years to do it six or seven times,” Durbin said.  “The question is will we be able to do it in next year's budget?”

Noting that these breakthroughs were only possible because of robust federal funding for medical research institutes, Durbin decried House Republicans’ proposed budget, which could dramatically slash funding for NIH.  By one estimate, the House-passed Default on America Act would decrease funding for NIH by more than 20 percent – slashing thousands of grants, delaying treatments and cures, and shuttering labs. 

“Sadly, the budget that's been proposed by the Republicans in the House of Representatives devastates the National Institutes of Health budget – at least a 20 to 25 percent cut in the amount of money in medical research.  What impact does that have?  Well, I can tell you it has a direct impact in lessening the number of grants that are awarded each year for medical research,” Durbin said.  “Secondly, it sends a message to the researchers who are working so hard across the United States that they cannot depend on us in Congress to fund their needed research in the years to come.  That will discourage some.  Some will walk away from a lot of research that could be very promising.”

“I’d like to say to Speaker McCarthy and those who are endorsing his budget, stop and consider the impact of what you're doing.  There are people and families all across America who are counting on medical research for someone that they love, and that research is coming through in remarkable ways, unprecedented around the world.  To think that we would cut the medical research budget of the United States by 25 percent and to argue that that's in the best interest of our country is madness. And it's political selfishness,” Durbin continued.

“I would just plead with my friends on the other side of the aisle, at the end of this debate on the budget, don't will let medical research be one of the casualties.  There are so many important areas I can add to that list of things that are critical to the future of America, but I wanted to speak to medical research this morning because Brian Wallach was my visitor in my office and reminded me that the determination of Brian and his wife Sandra to push for medical research is literally making a difference, so that Lou Gehrig’s disease will one day be a disease of the past that we have conquered,” Durbin concluded his speech.

A photo of today’s meeting with Brian Wallach is available here.

Video of Durbin’s floor speech is available here.

Audio of Durbin’s floor speech is available here.

Footage of Durbin’s floor speech is available here for TV Stations.