Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D.-Md., visited the National Institutes of Health on Sept. 22 to put a face on the potential impact of a government shutdown.
"When you come here, to the clinical center, you can see the real world harm of what would happen if we saw another government shutdown," he said.
Van Hollen was joined by NIH director Francis Collins in calling on Congress to avert the shutdown, which will take place on Oct. 1, barring an appropriations agreement to fund the government.
NIH, the federal medical research agency, is seeking $31.3 billion in federal funding for the 2016 budget. Should Congress not reach a spending agreement by Sept. 30, Collins said that NIH would be forced to shutter important medical research and deny care to patients unless they faced life-threatening conditions.
"This is not just an argument about hypotheticals," Collins said. "Real lives are affected, lives of children who are already in difficult straights, coming to this house of hope and counting on some potential coming out of some challenging situations. And we'd have to turn them away."
The most recent budget impasse centers on the federal funding of Planned Parenthood, who was the subject of a series of controversial sting videos regarding the donation of fetal tissue.
Twenty-eight Republican congressmen have vowed to vote against appropriations unless funding to Planned Parenthood is removed.
Van Hollen, ranking member of the House Budget Committee, said that while talks are ongoing, the prospect shuttered government facilities remains very real, and called for a short-term continuing resolution while negotiations continued.
"I can't stand here right now and say with confidence that there won't be a government shutdown," he said. "The answer in the short-term is really simple and very clear, which is to provide a little breathing room.
"In the short term, it's just a matter of having a vote in the House. The Speaker, [John Boehner], needs to put up a short term CR, it would pass and then we need to get down to the kind of negotiating business that we should have been having for a long time.
Collins said contingency plans for the shutdown have yet to be activated at NIH, because no one knows if there will be one, but he and his staff remember 2013's shutdown and will be prepared.
"So, of course, we had that experience two years ago. We've tried to learn from that as best we could," he said. "We remain optimistic that we will not have to implement those lessons, but of course we would not be good managers to hide our heads in the sand and pretend like this could not happen."