As President Obama releases his proposed 2012 budget this week, and House Republicans sharpen their knives in the expectation of slashing it, the politically potent biomedical research community already has geared up for a high profile campaign to fight cuts to the NIH budget. But behind the scenes a more fundamental debate is being waged over how life sciences research budgets, regardless of their size, should be divvied up between basic, translational and applied science.

The White House budget proposals simply begin a new argument over spending priorities; indeed, the U.S. government has operated for almost five months without a final budget for fiscal 2011. Nevertheless, the science community already has concluded the tough fiscal realities mean that virtually any attempt to fund new priorities will take money away from existing programs.