House and Senate Adopt Budget Blueprints; Appropriations Committees to Begin Consideration of Spending Bills in May; FASEB Submits Testimony Requesting $32 Billion for Biomedical Research
Members of Congress left Washington for their two-week spring break after completing preliminary action on the fiscal year (FY) 2016 budget resolution. On March 25, the House passed H Con Res 27 authored by Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price (R-GA) by a vote of 228-199, with 17 Republicans voting against it. H Con Res 27 affirms that the FY 2016 limit on discretionary spending will be $1.017 trillion – nearly the same as 2015. In an effort to appease lawmakers who demanded greater increases in defense spending, the budget resolution increased the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) fund to $96 billion.
Senate approval of the budget resolution (S Con Res 11) followed on March 27 by a vote of 52-46 (all Democrats as well as Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Rand Paul (R-KY) voted against it). The Senate budget blueprint also included $96 billion in the OCO fund. Prior to passing their budget resolution, the Senate adopted more than 140 amendments through roll call votes and unanimous consent. During debate, the Senate considered several proposals to increase funding for research. One sponsored by Tim Kaine (D-VA) was adopted 50-48, providing one of the clearest indications to date that there is a narrow majority in the Senate willing to increase discretionary spending programs.
Another amendment from Richard Durbin (D-IL) proposed a Deficit Neutral Reserve Fund (DNRF) to “support investments in research and development and to improve the competitiveness of the U.S.” These funds allow for new spending as long as it is offset with tax increases or other revenue. The Durbin amendment, which contains similarities to the American Cures Act (S 289) and the American Innovation Act (S 747) introduced by the senator earlier this year, passed by unanimous consent. A related proposal sponsored by Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS) would create a DNRF to “support investments in precision medicine, biomedical research, and the National Institutes of Health (NIH).” Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Ron Johnson (R-WI), David Perdue (R-GA), Patrick Toomey (R-PA), and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) co-sponsored the Moran amendment.
The votes on the amendments were largely symbolic, since the various federal programs must be funded by appropriations bills. However, the bipartisan support for increasing funding for research, as well as signs that the Senate might be willing to adjust the spending caps, could pave the way for a better budget agreement later this year.
After Congress returns to the Capitol on April 13, a conference committee will be convened to reconcile the differences between the two versions of the budget resolution. In related news, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) said that with action nearly complete on the budget resolution, appropriators are expected to begin consideration of the FY 2016 spending bills in early May. Rogers reiterated his desire to approve all of the bills at the committee level and bring them to the House floor over the summer for final votes. He also noted that the $1.017 trillion discretionary spending cap “allows for very little growth” for programs and agencies.
The Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) continued its advocacy in support of funding for biomedical research by submitting testimony to the Senate Labor, Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee. FASEB urged the subcommittee to provide $32 billion for NIH in FY 2016 to prevent further erosion of the nation’s capacity for biomedical research, and as a first installment of a multi-year program of sustainable increases. The Federation also noted that stable and predictable increases in federal funding for research supported by NIH are necessary to take advantage of unprecedented opportunities to improve quality of life, address the rising costs of care for the aging, and protect individuals from new and emerging diseases.