Inside (the Beltway) Scoop

By | November 3, 2016

Congress Prepares for Lame Duck Session; Appropriators Hope for Omnibus Spending Bill in December; Bipartisan Letter Urges Support for Proposed $2 Billion Increase for Biomedical Research

After spending the past month on the campaign trail and in their districts, members of Congress are preparing to return to Washington the week of November 14 for what is expected to be a busy “lame duck” session. With only 12 working days before the “continuing resolution” (CR) that is currently funding government agencies expires on December 9, reaching a budget agreement is one of the biggest issues facing legislators.

Although congressional leaders have not indicated how they will accomplish the task of extending funding beyond December, several options are being discussed, including combining the 11 unfinished appropriations bills into an omnibus package. This approach would guarantee that all federal agencies receive final 2017 funding by the end of the calendar year. However, it is unlikely to win the support of fiscally conservative Republicans and would therefore require votes from a significant number of Democrats and moderates in order to pass.

Rather than considering one large omnibus, legislators might instead merge small groups of the remaining spending bills into several “minibuses,” as suggested by House Speaker Paul Ryan
(R-WI) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). Congress will not have enough time to pass multiple minibuses, so this approach could leave some agencies with temporary funding for an extended period of time.

A third scenario would be to adopt a fiscal year-long CR that would “flat fund” all agencies at their fiscal year 2016 level through September 30, 2017. If Congress chooses that option, the proposed $2 billion increase for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and an additional $25 million for competitive research supported by the United States Department of Agriculture would be forfeited.

Despite the uncertainty, there are signals that an attempt will be made to pass an omnibus spending bill sometime in December. Over the last few weeks, appropriations committee staff has engaged in closed door negotiations to reconcile the differences in the individual bills and identify areas of disagreement that will need to be addressed by members of Congress when they return.

Lawmakers also are beginning to advocate for their top priorities as the discussions about spending are taking place behind-the-scenes. Representatives Suzan DelBene (D-WA), David McKinley (R-WV), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), and Peter King (R-NY) asked their House colleagues to sign-on to a letter urging that the omnibus bill include no less than $34 billion for NIH, as recommended by the Senate Appropriations Committee. So far, a bipartisan group of more than 150 Representatives from 38 states have signed the letter.

The Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology has several activities planned to encourage Congress to move quickly to complete action on an omnibus funding bill. An e-action alert will be distributed in mid-November, followed by a webinar to provide tips and resources for researchers to ensure their voices are heard on Capitol Hill during this critical time.