For Medical Research? The 5.7 percent increase in the National Institutes of Health's appropriation for fiscal 1996 represents startling bipartisan support by the House, the Senate, and President Clinton.

The $11.94 billion total appropriation, greater than the president's original request, is $640 million over the 1995 funding level. The increase was made possible largely by a Republican Congress otherwise zealous about controlling the debt and the deficit. But let's look this gift horse in the mouth. The NIH budget success is not without ambiguity, irony, and uncertainty. Is there a better way to secure funding?

Adequate funding for investigator-initiated proposals judged "outstanding" and "excellent" by scientific peers requires a stable, vigorous research enterprise, which cannot thrive with an uncertain, annual appropriation. The ideal, however, may be realizable-sans new taxes-through voluntary contribution. The Internal Revenue Service code could cast the net to secure the catch.

The FY 1996 NIH appropriation was...

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