Inside (the Beltway) Scoop

House Leaders Plan for a Continuing Resolution; Congress Adjourns for Summer Break Amid Budget Uncertainty; Senate Science Committee Holds Hearing on Medical Breakthroughs

Although both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees approved all 12 of their annual spending bills for the first time in six years, the path ahead for a budget agreement is unclear. In a July 14 press release, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) congratulated his committee on their achievement but noted that appropriators still have a lot of work to do this fall. “With time dwindling before the end of the fiscal year, it is my hope that all sides can come together to find common ground on an overall budget agreement,” he said. Representative Nita Lowey (D-NY) and Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), the ranking members of the Appropriations Committees, made a related plea, issuing a joint statement urging Republican leaders to “engage with Democrats to negotiate a new budget deal modeled after the bipartisan agreement of 2013 that removes the threat of a government shutdown and allows for responsible investments in America’s future.”

Despite recognition by appropriators in both parties on the need for a revised budget plan, it is not clear at the present time who will lead the negotiations. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI), the principal architects of the 2013 legislation to raise the Budget Control Act spending caps and temporarily suspend sequestration, are unlikely to volunteer again. Ryan is leading a new effort to pass a comprehensive tax reform bill, and Murray no longer chairs the Senate Budget Committee as she did two years ago. There is speculation that Chairman Rogers and Chairwoman Mikulski could take the lead on an effort this fall, but they have said they will defer to House and Senate leaders on how to proceed.

In the meantime, Congress is preparing to enact a “continuing resolution” (CR) to keep the government open beyond September 30. At a press conference on July 23, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said, “It’s pretty clear, given the number of days we’re going to be here in September that we’re going to have to do a CR of some sort.” The Speaker also added that no decisions have been made regarding the length of the CR. “We’ll deal with it in September when we get back,” he said. Members of Congress are in recess until September 8.

Prior to leaving for summer break, the Senate Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness held a hearing entitled “Unlocking the Cures for America’s Deadly Diseases.”  The hearing focused on ways to facilitate the development of new medical breakthroughs, with an emphasis on regulatory reform at the Food and Drug Administration.

During the hearing, ranking member Gary Peters (D-MI) voiced his support for America’s publicly funded research enterprise. Senator Peters highlighted the crucial role of federally funded discovery research sponsored by the National Science Foundation, National Institute of Standards and Technology, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and other agencies in the development of new innovations and the training of the scientific workforce. He also noted that total federal research and development (R&D) spending has fallen below one percent of gross domestic product, a fact that he deemed “unacceptable,” and that there appears to be a correlated decline in private R&D investment. In order to ensure American competitiveness, Senator Peters insisted that federal spending on a broad portfolio of science and technology, including the social and behavioral sciences, must keep pace with the growth of the U.S. economy. Peters and Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) are leading a Senate Science Committee initiative to reauthorize federal science and technology policies.