Inside (the Beltway) Scoop

By | March 25, 2015

Budget Resolutions Uphold Spending Caps; Letters to Appropriations Committees Show Support for Science Agencies; FASEB Submits Testimony on Behalf of Energy and Agriculture Research

Congress continued to make progress on establishing fiscal year (FY) 2016 spending priorities as the House and Senate Budget Committees released their respective budget resolutions. The budget resolution establishes broad goals and provides only a framework to guide the appropriations process. It is not signed into law by the president.

Demonstrating that lawmakers remain committed to fiscal austerity, the budget resolution adheres to the post-sequester Budget Control Act caps for FY 2016 and maintains the current division of funds between defense and non-defense programs. The FY 2016 limit on discretionary spending will be $1.017 trillion – nearly the same level as 2015. In an effort to appease lawmakers who are demanding significant increases in defense spending, the budget blueprint adds more than $90 billion to the overseas contingency operations (OCO) fund. The OCO account is not subjected to the discretionary spending caps and does not require an offset.

Although the budget resolutions preserve the status quo for FY 2016, they call for cuts in non-defense discretionary (NDD) spending from FY 2017-2025 in order to pay for increases in defense programs. The House proposed cuts totaling $759 billion (14 percent below the current caps) while the Senate reduces NDD by four percent ($263 billion). In addition, there is a “Policy Statement on Medical Discovery, Development, Delivery and Innovation” in the House version of the budget resolution. Section 809 notes that China will outspend the United States on total research and development by the end of the decade, states “America should maintain its world leadership in medical science,” and recognizes “the valuable role of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).” The Senate budget resolution includes a “deficit neutral reserve fund” to raise the defense and NDD limits for FY 2016.  This fund is symbolic because Congress would need to amend the BCA in order to change the existing caps.

The budget resolutions were approved by the House and Senate Budget Committees with no support from Democrats. House leadership is hoping to get final approval of the budget resolution before Congress departs for a two-week spring break on March 27. Similarly, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) indicated that the Senate will debate the budget plan prior to the upcoming recess.

In anticipation of consideration of the 2016 appropriations bills later this year, multiple “Dear Colleague” letters are circulating seeking funding for the federal research agencies. A letter from Representatives David McKinley (D-R-WV), Peter King (R-NY), Andre Carson (D-IN), and Susan Davis (D-CA) requesting $32 billion for NIH was signed by more than 100 of their colleagues. Bob Casey (D-PA) and Richard Burr (R-NC) secured support from over 40 Senators on a related communication urging the Appropriations Committee to “maintain a strong commitment to funding for NIH.” The Department of Energy Office of Science (DOE SC) should be a priority in FY 2016 according to 80 House members who added their names to a statement written by Representatives Randy Hultgren (R-IL), Ben Lujan (D-NM), Dan Newhouse (R-WA), and Bill Foster (D-IL). Another letter organized by Representative Elizabeth Esty (D-CT) seeking $622 million (the same as President Obama’s request) for the Veterans Medical and Prosthetic Research Program gathered 41 signatures.

The Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) submitted testimony to the Senate Energy and Water and House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittees in support of DOE SC and the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI). Consistent with the recommendations in its FY 2016 federal funding report (see related story), FASEB requested $5.34 billion for DOE SC, noting that amount would preserve the capacity of our National Labs and User Facilities. The Federation urged appropriators to provide $450 million for AFRI. Over the next few weeks, FASEB will also send statements to the appropriations subcommittees that oversee funding for NIH and the National Science Foundation.