Congress Passes Bill Funding Government Through December; Legislators Return to the Campaign Trail; Busy Lame Duck Session Expected After November Elections
After resolving a protracted dispute over resources to clean up the contaminated water supply in Flint, Michigan, Congress finally passed a “continuing resolution” (CR) to keep the government operating beyond the start of fiscal year (FY) 2017 on October 1. Senate approval of the temporary budget agreement came on September 28 by a vote of 72-26. A 342-85 House vote a few hours later sent the legislation to the White House, where it was signed by President Barack Obama on September 29.
The CR (HR 5325) funds the government through December 9 at the current spending level of $1.067 trillion minus a 0.5 percent across-the-board cut that is necessary to comply with the spending cap. It includes a total of $1.1 billion in Zika funding, more than $150 million of which will be distributed to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for research to develop a vaccine and diagnostic tests. The CR also contains $37 million to support treatment for opioid addiction and recovery and funds to repair damage from recent floods in Louisiana, West Virginia, and Maryland.
In addition, HR 5325 included the final FY 2017 Military Construction/Veterans Affairs Appropriations bill. The Medical and Prosthetic Research Program was funded at $675.36 million, $44.6 million (seven percent) above the FY 2016 level.
Congress deserted Capitol Hill for the campaign trail soon after adopting the CR. With government funding expiring in early December, legislators will have to return to Washington after Election Day for a “lame duck” session to resolve the 2017 budget, including funding for NIH, National Science Foundation, and other federal agencies. The House is tentatively planning to resume work the week of November 14, but the Senate schedule has not been announced yet.
The Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology encourages Congress to move quickly upon their return to complete action on an omnibus funding bill. Such a bill would combine the 12 individual measures passed by the appropriations committees earlier this year, including a $2 billion increase for NIH proposed by the Senate Labor, Health and Human Services Subcommittee. Increased funding is also pending for competitive research supported by the United States Department of Agriculture. Failure to pass an appropriations package would leave these funding increases on the table.
In addition to resolving the 2017 budget, Congress is likely to address a long list of unfinished business during an extremely busy “lame duck” session. Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) is planning to introduce a new version of the 21st Century Cures bill (HR 6) originally approved by the House in July 2015. The revised Cures measure is an attempt to address concerns about the cost of the legislation and provide a vehicle for the Senate to deliberate since it did not consider the original 21st Century Cures bill. According to Representative Gene Green (D-TX), the ranking member on the Energy and Commerce Committee, the revised bill will include $4 billion in new, mandatory funding for NIH, down from the nearly $9 billion proposed in HR 6.
“I fully expect that we will have this legislation before the year is out and we’re on track to do that,” stated Chairman Upton.
Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Patty Murray (D-WA) issued a joint press release confirming their commitment to working with Upton to “getting a result this year that would lead to lifesaving medical breakthroughs.”