Inside (the Beltway) Scoop

By | July 1, 2015

Appropriations Committees Approve Substantial Increases for NIH; Senate Bill Proposes Flat Funding for NSF; Vote on 21st Century Cures Expected in Early July

In the weeks leading up to the Independence Day recess, appropriators progressed toward completing the 12 fiscal year (FY) 2016 spending bills. Following nearly seven hours of debate, the House Appropriations Committee adopted the Labor, Health and Human Services (LHHS) bill by a vote of 30-21 on June 24. All Democrats opposed the measure because the total amount of available funding is $3.6 billion below the FY 2015 level. This is the first time the House Appropriations Committee has passed an LHHS bill in six years. In a press release, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) said, “The funding in this bill is targeted to programs that are proven to produce results.”

Despite the reduction in overall funding, the House LHHS bill provides $31.2 billion for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), $1.1 billion above the FY 2015 enacted level and $100 million more than the President’s budget request. Committee members considered 30 amendments, including many that were offered at a subcommittee mark-up the previous week. Subcommittee ranking member Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) again offered an amendment to increase funding for NIH by $3 billion by adding the text of HR 531, the Accelerating Biomedical Research Act, to the bill. The DeLauro amendment was rejected by a party line 20-30 vote. LHHS Subcommittee Chairman Tom Cole (R-OK) noted that DeLauro’s effort to increase NIH funding was admirable and offered to work with her in the future to ensure NIH has the budgetary resources it needs. However, he said he could not support her amendment because approving the additional funding would cause the bill to exceed the subcommittee’s spending limit. A webcast of the full committee mark-up is available here. The committee also released report language providing an explanation of the bill.

Senate Appropriations Committee approval of a slightly different LHHS bill came the following day. The vote was 16-14 with all Democrats following their House counterparts in refusing to support the measure. In the Senate version, NIH receives $32 billion, an increase of $2 billion (5.6 percent) above FY 2015 and equivalent to FASEB’s recommendation. The $32 billion total meets the specific funding requests for the Precision Medicine and Combatting Antibiotic Resistance Initiatives outlined in the administration’s FY 2016 NIH budget request and increases support for the Institutional Development Award program by nearly $27 million above the current funding level. During his opening statement and in an op-ed published in The Hill, Senate LHHS Subcommittee Chairman Roy Blunt (R-MO) said, “This bill prioritizes programs that will provide a significant benefit to all Americans including providing the National Institutes of Health with a $2 billion increase to focus on advancing medical treatments, Precision Medicine and research to find a cure for Alzheimer’s and cancer.” He also noted that the $2 billion increase for NIH was the largest provided since 2003. Senators Richard Shelby (R-AL), Susan Collins (R-ME), and Richard Durbin (D-IL) praised Chairman Blunt for making NIH funding such a high priority in the bill.

The mark-up included discussion of 12 amendments, including one from Senator Bill Cassidy (R-LA) that proposed repurposing more than $200 million intended for the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to focus on neurodegenerative diseases. Chairman Blunt promised to work with Senator Cassidy to address his concerns but also expressed confidence in NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins’ ability to appropriately balance the agency’s portfolio. The Cassidy amendment was defeated by a vote of 6-23. LHHS Subcommittee ranking member Patty Murray (D-WA) offered an amendment to increase the overall LHHS bill funding level to the original amount detailed for FY 2016 in the Budget Control Act before sequestration. The Murray amendment was defeated by a party line vote of 14-16.

Although NIH received good news from the Senate appropriators, the National Science Founding (NSF) was not as fortunate. The Commerce, Justice, Science bill approved by the full Appropriations Committee on a bipartisan 27-3 vote holds funding for the NSF at the FY 2015 enacted level of $7.344 billion, $380 million below Obama’s request and $50 million less than the House recommended. A summary of the bill is available here.

Despite the Appropriations Committees’ efforts, further progress on the budget bills is likely to stall in the months ahead. The White House has issued veto threats on every measure approved to date, and Senate Democrats followed up on their threat to block floor consideration by refusing to allow a vote on the Defense Appropriations bill. Democrats want to force Republicans to begin negotiations immediately on raising the discretionary spending caps imposed by the Budget Control Act. Republicans have rejected the Democrats’ call to begin talks on a revised budget deal but have left the door open to having discussions later this year. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) may try to hold votes on additional spending bills when Congress returns to Washington next week.

Another piece of legislation that may get approved in July is the 21st Century Cures bill (HR 6). House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) and ranking member Diana DeGette (D-CO) have secured more than 200 bipartisan co-sponsors and are finalizing plans for a vote on the House floor the week of July 6. An effort to complete consideration of the bill in late June stalled after a Congressional Budget Office report estimated that it would cost $106 billion to implement. The committee is identifying additional ways to pay for the bill.