Congress Returns for Lame Duck Session; Uncertain Outlook for Finishing Fiscal Year 2017 Budget; Advocates Urge Support for Proposed $2 Billion Increase for Biomedical Research
Members of Congress returned to Washington on November 14 for a “lame duck” session following the surprising results of the 2016 elections. Although legislators have a long list of unfinished business to address over the next few weeks, one of the most critical issues is how to fund the government once the current “continuing resolution” (CR) expires on December 9.
Following a private meeting with members of the Republican caucus and Vice-President Elect Mike Pence on November 16, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) announced that the House will vote on another CR to keep federal agencies operating through next spring. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) confirmed in a press release that he is in the process of drafting a CR to extend funding at the fiscal year (FY) 2016 level through March 31, 2017.
It is not clear whether the Senate will follow the House plan. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and other Senate appropriators have indicated they would like to complete work on the FY 2017 budget by passing an omnibus measure that combines the 11 unfinished spending bills into a single package.
There is still a possibility that Congress could ultimately approve an omnibus in December because Chairman Rogers said Appropriations Committee staff made good progress in resolving the differences between the House and Senate versions of the bills during the pre-election recess. White House officials have also not provided any information about President Obama’s willingness to sign another CR.
The delay in finalizing the 2017 spending bills jeopardizes the likelihood that the $2 billion increase for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee in June will become a reality. Given what is at stake for the research community, the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) issued an e-action alert on November 15 asking individuals to email their members of Congress to urge them to support a spending package that includes the proposed increase for NIH and additional funding for the National Science Foundation, Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, and the Department of Energy Office of Science. To date, more than 3,000 research advocates have sent nearly 10,000 emails to Capitol Hill. The alert is available online and can be shared with friends, family, and others concerned about research funding.
In addition to distributing the alert, FASEB signed-on to a letter organized by the Ad Hoc Group for Medical Research that urged House and Senate leadership to approve a final FY 2017 spending bill that includes the $2 billion increase for NIH by the end of the calendar year. The letter noted that another CR would delay progress on medical research and “create inefficiencies and add uncertainty to a system that is already under stress.” It was signed by 229 organizations.