"I'm asking for an increase of a couple of hundred million dollars," the white-haired witness told a hearing on federal support of cancer research. "I used to be able to do that through a side door."

Former House Speaker Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill Jr., who has been waging a personal battle with cancer for four years, brought smiles to the faces of members of the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee as he recalled the clout he once wielded.The 78-year-old Massachusetts Democrat on Thursday made his first official visit to Congress since he retired in 1987 after 34 years on Capitol Hill and a decade as speaker.

The occasion was the 20th anniversary of the National Cancer Act, which increased funds for cancer research and reorganized the National Cancer Institute.

O'Neill told of his cancer and chided Congress for spending too much on defense at the expense of programs like cancer research, for which inflation-adjusted spending has declined 6 percent over the past two decades.

"We can always find the money when the emergency comes," he said. "The emergency is there with regard to cancer."

O'Neill urged Congress to add $200 million to President Bush's proposed $1.7 billion budget for the National Cancer Institute next fiscal year. Even that would merely give the institute the spending power it had in 1980, he said.

Maintaining cancer research "is an obligation of the government," he said. More than 1 million people will be diagnosed with the disease this year and a half-million will die from it.

"There are 7 million cancer survivors because of cancer research. You're looking at one of them," O'Neill said.