Inside (the Beltway) Scoop

By | October 5, 2017

Appropriations Bills Stall; NIH Announces Funding Policies Under the Continuing Resolution; Bi-Partisan Efforts Continue on Behalf of Biomedical Research

With federal agencies funded under a “continuing resolution” (CR) through December 8, Congress is in no rush to reach an agreement on raising the Budget Control Act caps on defense and non-defense spending. Further consideration of the fiscal year 2018 (FY 2018) appropriations bills will remain stalled until legislators find a path forward. The timeframe for beginning budget negotiations is unclear as Congress focuses on other issues including tax reform and reauthorization of programs that expired September 30.

Further complicating matters, the Senate will recess the week of October 9 while the House takes a break October 16-20. The Senate may also hold confirmation hearings and vote on a replacement for Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price who resigned September 29.

In the meantime, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) issued a notice regarding the agency’s funding policies while the CR is in effect. Similar to previous years, NIH will fund non-competing research grant awards at “up to 90 percent of the previously committed level.” The notice further states, “Upward adjustments to awarded levels will be considered after FY 2018 appropriations are enacted.” Individual NIH institutes and centers will also be expected to monitor expenses carefully until Congress approves a budget.

Despite the lack of broad attention to the budget, several members of Congress continue to advocate on behalf of NIH. Representatives Elsie Stefanik (R-NY) and Scott Peters (D-CA) authored a bipartisan op-ed in The Hill highlighting how moderate Republicans from the “Tuesday Group” are working with the New Democrat Coalition to increase funding for biomedical research. The piece noted NIH’s support for basic research to improve our understanding of cancer and other diseases, and the agency’s role in growing the economy and protecting national security. Stefanik and Peters also echoed statements made by FASEB that maintaining America’s leadership in science requires a renewed investment in NIH.

Two other legislators – Representatives Suzan DelBene (D-WA) and Peter King (R-NY) – sponsored a related bipartisan letter expressing continued federal support for facilities and administrative (F & A) costs. Although the Trump Administration’s FY 2018 budget proposed a 10 percent cap on these expenses, the Labor, Health and Human Services Appropriations bill that funds NIH rejected the White House’s request. Similar language was also included in the CR.

The DelBene-King correspondence stated, “Maintaining federal support for F & A research costs is vitally important to our nation’s health and our medical innovation capacity in the 21st century. Simply put, scientists cannot conduct research for the federal government without incurring these costs.” It was signed by 86 Representatives and sent to House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).