Congress Returns from Holiday Break; Leadership Resumes Negotiations on Spending Caps; Confirmation Hearing Held for Health Nominee
Members of Congress returned from their holiday break with only two weeks to reach an agreement on how to fund the government for the remainder of fiscal year (FY) 2018. The current “continuing resolution” (CR) expires on January 19, but congressional leaders and President Trump are no closer to a deal to raise the budget caps. Republicans and Democrats have been saying for months that the statutory limits on defense and non-defense spending are insufficient.
On January 3, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) met with Mick Mulvaney, Director of the Office of Management and Budget, and Marc Short, White House Director of Legislative Affairs, to resume negotiations. Following the meeting, McConnell said, “It is important that we achieve a two-year agreement that funds our troops and provides for our national security and other critical functions of the federal government.”
A statement from Schumer and Pelosi noted, “We had a positive and productive meeting and all parties have agreed to continue discussing a path forward to quickly resolve all of the issues ahead of us.” Senate Labor, Health and Human Services (LHHS) Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Roy Blunt (R-MO) was even more optimistic, saying he expects leadership and the White House to reach an agreement on revised spending levels before the January 19 deadline.
Trump met with congressional leaders again January 9 at the White House to continue the conversations. Reaching a deal this week will be crucial to meeting the latest deadline because the House and Senate will have to vote on legislation to change the caps. Even if an agreement is reached in the next few days, another short term CR will be needed to give the Appropriations Committees time to draft an omnibus spending bill. That process could take three-four weeks. House LHHS Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Tom Cole (R-OK) speculated that the next CR could run through February 19 (President’s Day).
Funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) remains in limbo until the spending caps are adjusted. Prior agreements to raise the spending caps were critical factors that led to $2 billion increases for NIH in 2016 and 2017. A recent New York Times article cited support for biomedical research as an area where Congress has been able to achieve bipartisan consensus and noted, “For the third straight year, lawmakers are planning to increase the budget of NIH by $2 billion.” To ensure the proposed increase becomes a reality, FASEB will issue an e-action alert in mid-January urging Congressional support for higher FY 2018 funding levels for NIH, the National Science Foundation, and other science agencies.
In other news, the Senate Finance Committee held a confirmation hearing this week for Alex Azar, the nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS). Azar replaces Tom Price, MD, who resigned in September. Azar was a senior executive at Eli Lilly and previously served as deputy secretary under HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt in the George W. Bush administration. He has a law degree and clerked for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.