Congress Resumes Negotiations on 2017 Budget; President’s Preliminary Fiscal Year 2018 Budget Proposes Significant Cuts for Research Agencies
Fiscal issues dominated the activity on Capitol Hill over the last few weeks. Congress resumed negotiations on legislation that will be needed to keep government agencies operating when the “continuing resolution” expires in late April. On March 8, the House of Representatives took a tentative step toward finishing work on the fiscal year (FY) 2017 budget, approving the Department of Defense Appropriations bill by a bipartisan vote of 371-48. It is not clear when the Senate will consider the defense spending bill. Appropriators are hoping that the defense bill could become the vehicle for an omnibus package that finalizes the 2017 budget for other agencies, including the proposed $2 billion increase for the National Institutes of Health (NIH). A decision on how to proceed with the unfinished 2017 budget is expected soon given that legislators will be on a break for two weeks in early April.
Budgetary matters also took center stage on March 16 when the White House released the President’s FY 2018 budget outline. The proposal cuts $54 billion in non-defense discretionary (NDD) spending across the government including reducing funding for NIH by $5.8 billion (nearly 20 percent) and the DOE Office of Science budget by $900 million (approximately 17 percent). Funding for competitive agriculture research would remain at the 2016 level. There was no information in the proposal about the budget for the National Science Foundation.
Reaction from Capitol Hill was negative with many members of Congress declaring the budget “dead on arrival.” Appropriations Committee ranking member Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) issued a press release expressing concern about the proposed cuts and specifically mentioned NIH. On Monday, Leahy sent a letter to the Budget Committee opposing Trump’s proposal noting the country cannot sustain such reductions in numerous programs including those that protect public health. In addition, Representative Kevin Yoder (R-KS) issued a press release vowing to fight the proposed cut to NIH. In 2016, Yoder sponsored a letter to the Appropriations Committee that was signed by 100 House Republicans in support of the $2 billion increase for NIH in 2016. Further discussion about the proposed cuts to NIH may take place at a House Labor, Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee NIH budget hearing on March 21 at 10:00 am (EDT) featuring testimony from NIH Director Dr. Francis S. Collins. A live webcast of the hearing will be available.
The release of the Administration’s budget proposal is the first step in the lengthy federal budget and appropriations process. A complete White House FY 2018 budget will be sent to Congress in May. That version will likely have additional information about the proposed cuts and detailed budget tables. None of the cuts that were proposed by the President can become law unless Congress approves them. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) issued a press release noting that, “Congress has the power of the purse. While the President may offer proposals, Congress must review both requests to assure the wise investment of taxpayer dollars.”