Inside (the Beltway) Scoop

By | March 10, 2016

House Leaders Continue Budget Negotiations; Appropriations Committees Focus on Spending Bills; Congressional Champions Circulate Letters Requesting Increased Funding for Research

Although congressional leaders were hoping that the fiscal year (FY) 2017 appropriations process would proceed smoothly following passage of the Bipartisan Budget Act (BBA) last fall, it appears that not everyone got the memo. For the last few weeks, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price (R-GA) have been trying to appease fiscal conservatives in the Freedom Caucus and Republican Study Group who did not support the BBA and want to cut the $30 billion in additional discretionary spending that was included in the legislation. Democrats and President Obama strongly oppose any attempt to renegotiate the budget deal.

The ongoing dispute is also threatening plans to complete work on the 12 individual spending bills prior to the Presidential and congressional elections in November. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) wanted Appropriations Committee consideration of the measures to begin in March so that the first bill could be ready for a House vote in early April. However, the chairman is unlikely to move forward with appropriations legislation until some kind of agreement can be reached with conservatives about overall spending levels. The next step in the process could come the week of March 14 when the House Budget Committee is expected to consider an FY 2017 budget resolution that reaffirms the $1.07 trillion spending limit in the BBA.

In the meantime, the Appropriations Committees are holding hearings to review the President’s FY 2017 budget request. National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director, Francis Collins, MD, PhD, is expected to testify in support of the agency’s $33 billion funding request in early April. Dr. Collins is likely to face tough questions about the President’s proposal to provide mandatory funding for NIH. House Labor, Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Tom Cole (R-OK) noted that the Obama budget would cut NIH’s discretionary funding by one billion dollars below the FY 2016 level and replace the lost funds with mandatory money. Cole stated, “We will not cut a billion dollars out of NIH,” and added that currently there is very little support for the notion of using mandatory funds to support biomedical research.

As the appropriators focus on digesting the President’s budget, other members of Congress are busy gathering support for specific funding priorities. Representatives David McKinley (R-WV), Peter King (R-NY), Susan Davis (D-CA), and Andre Carson (D-IN) are asking their colleagues to sign a letter urging the House Appropriations Committee to provide NIH with “at least $34.5 billion” in FY 2017. That funding level is very similar to the recommendation from the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB).

On the other side of Capitol Hill, Senators Bob Casey (D-PA) and Richard Burr (R-NC) are circulating a similar letter imploring the Senate Appropriations Committee to “maintain a strong commitment” to funding for NIH and “continue federal support for medical research because of the potential health benefits for all Americans and the importance of ensuring that our nation remains at the forefront of medical research.”

Efforts are also underway to secure increased funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) at the US Department of Agriculture. Representatives G.K Butterfield (D-NC) and McKinley are circulating a letter requesting $8 billion for NSF, similar to the amount recommended by FASEB. Their colleagues Rodney Davis (R-IL) and Suzan DelBene (D-WA) are the leaders of a parallel communication asking appropriators to provide $700 million for AFRI, as suggested by President Obama and FASEB.