The Public Health Service raised its stakes in the AIDS budget game yesterday, as the government's top health official told Congress that he wants a 55 percent increase in the amount already requested for next year to fight the deadly disease.
Dr. James O. Mason, acting assistant secretary for health and head of the Public Health Service, said that the Health and Human Services Department had asked the White House for $70 million to combat AIDS, on top of the $126.3 million the administration has sought for fiscal 1986.
Mason told a Senate Appropriations subcommittee that the new request was the result of a "reassessment of AIDS efforts" that showed a "need to expand beyond our current request in order to evaluate new drugs and therapies and to gain a better understanding of the prevalence of AIDS," or acquired immune deficiency syndrome.
If approved by the Office of Management and Budget, this would be the second big increase in the administration's AIDS research request for next year. The original $85.6 million request was increased by $40.7 million over the summer.
"Whatever you ask for, you can get," said Sen. Lowell P. Weicker Jr. (R-Conn.), the chairman of the Senate subcommittee that oversees the HHS budget. Weicker's subcommittee has already approved slightly more than the full amount previously sought by the administration, but will consider the additional request. A markup session is scheduled for next week.
The House Appropriations Committee has already increased its federal budget for AIDS to a level similar to the administration's. Yesterday the panel approved more than $189 million to fight AIDS, including $70 million more than the administration had sought for research by the National Institutes of Health. The bill could go to the House floor next week, according to a committee staff member.
The Reagan administration has been prodded by both members of Congress and outside critics to spend more on AIDS. Mason said yesterday that the 1986 proposals contrast with $108.9 million estimated to have been spent by the PHS in fiscal 1985, $61.5 million in 1984, $28.7 million in 1983 and $5.5 million in 1982. The disease was first reported in the spring of 1981.
Yesterday, Mason declined to say which agencies would receive the additional $70 million, but one source said the bulk -- about $50 million -- would go to NIH.
Yesterday, Mason was accompanied by the heads of the PHS agencies that are sponsoring AIDS research: Dr. James B. Wyngaarden, director of NIH, which is financing the bulk of AIDS basic research. Dr. Donald Hopkins, acting director of the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta. Dr. Frank E. Young, head of the Food and Drug Administration, which is in charge of protecting the blood supply and moving new drugs into human research studies. Congress handles the FDA's budget along with the Agriculture Department's appropriation bill. Dr. Donald Ian Macdonald, administrator of the Alcohol, Drug Abuse and Mental Health Administration.
Dr. William A. Haseltine, a Harvard University researcher, protested that the requested funds were not enough. He urged the development of an AIDS "battle plan" of more than $236 million. "Adequate funds are simply not available to attract the best minds in our country to the problem of AIDS," he testified.