Inside (the Beltway) Scoop

By | July 20, 2017

House Committee Finishes Work on the 2018 Spending Bills; Senate Begins Consideration of Appropriations Measures; August Recess Delayed; Moderates Support Raising the Budget Caps

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) did not let lack of agreement on top-line funding levels interfere with his goal of completing the fiscal year (FY) 2018 spending bills in July. Appropriators passed all 12 measures through their respective subcommittees and the full committee. The bills now await final votes on the House floor. However, Democrats are not expected to support the measures because they are concerned about the levels proposed for domestic programs, including science agencies funded at these amounts:

Agency/Program

 

House Appropriations Committee FY 2018 Recommendation House Appropriations Committee Recommendation Compared with FY 2017
Department of Agriculture:

  • Agriculture and Food Research Initiative
  • Agricultural Research Service
 

$375 million

$1.13 billion

 

No change

-$38 million

Department of Energy Office of Science $5.39 billion No change
National Institutes of Health $35.2 billion +$1.1 billion
National Science Foundation $7.34 billion -$133 million
Veterans Administration Medical & Prosthetic Research Program $691 million +$16 million

The recommended $1.1 billion increase for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the Labor, Health and Human Services (LHHS) appropriations bill includes funding for initiatives authorized in the 21st Century Cures legislation Congress passed last year. LHHS Subcommittee Chairman Tom Cole (R-OK) indicated that he views the proposed NIH level “as a floor, not as a ceiling for biomedical research,” and said he looks forward to working with Senate counterpart Roy Blunt (R-MO) to find additional funding for the agency. Small increases were also provided for the Clinical and Translational Science Awards and the Institutional Development Awards.

In addition, “a new provision requiring NIH to continue reimbursing grantee research institutions for facilities and administrative costs” (F&A) was included in the NIH funding bill. The language makes it clear that NIH may not use funds to “develop or implement a modified approach” to F&A reimbursements.

House leaders hoped to combine all the appropriations bills into a joint omnibus package to be voted on before Congress’ summer break. That plan was abandoned after it became clear that a majority of the Republican Caucus was undecided about whether to support the omnibus. Instead, the House will vote next week on a minibus that will include the defense, military construction/veterans affairs, energy and water, and legislative branch measures.

On the other side of the Capitol, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved the first three of their 12 bills including agriculture, energy and water, and military construction/veterans affairs (VA). Senate appropriators recommended $375 million for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, the same as current funding. The Department of Energy Office of Science received $5.55 billion, a $158 million increase compared with FY 2017.

Senate Minority Whip Richard Durbin (D-IL) successfully offered an amendment during the consideration of the military construction/VA measure to increase funding for the Medical and Prosthetic Research program to $722 million. In May, he authored a letter to the Appropriations Committee urging them to provide 5 percent growth for the VA research program. The subcommittee’s initial recommendation was $705 million but the Durbin amendment achieved the goal of a 5 percent increase.

Senate appropriators could make additional progress on the spending bills over the next few weeks, following Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) surprise announcement to delay summer break until August 12 to complete work on unfinished legislative business. The additional two weeks will give the Senate Appropriations Committee time to catch up to the House’s progress, although the Senate is not expected to consider any omnibus legislation before the recess.

Despite the recent burst of activity on appropriations bills, Congress will still have to adopt a “continuing resolution” in September to keep the government funded on a temporary basis once FY 2018 begins October 1. Even if the House passes an omnibus spending measure by August, it stands almost no chance of Senate approval due to proposed cuts to domestic agencies.

An increasing number of Congressional members are urging House and Senate leaders to negotiate an agreement to raise the existing budget caps later this fall. Recently the Tuesday Group Caucus, an alliance of moderate and centrist House Republicans, wrote a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) expressing “concerns with the direction of the FY 2018 budget process.” The group stated, “…we believe that it is incumbent on the White House and Congressional leaders, both Republicans and Democrats, to reach an agreement that sets spending levels for, at least, FY 2018.” This letter seems to confirm earlier rumors that moderate Republicans support raising the spending caps, increasing the likelihood that a deal could be reached this fall.

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