Inside (the Beltway) Scoop

By | May 19, 2016

Senate Approves First 2017 Spending Bill; Appropriations Committee Passes Funding Legislation for Agriculture Research and the National Science Foundation; Negotiations Continue on Medical Innovations Bill; Agencies Receive Fiscal Year 2018 Budget Instructions

Work on the fiscal year (FY) 2017 budget continued on Capitol Hill as spending bills supporting funding for agriculture and veterans research and the National Science Foundation made their way through the legislative process.

The House Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies (CJS) Appropriations Subcommittee considered their FY 2017 spending bill on May 18. The measure would provide $7.4 billion for NSF, $56 million below the FY 2016 enacted level and approximately $102 million below the level proposed in the Senate CJS bill. As stated in the subcommittee’s press release, the reduction would come at the expense of facilities and equipment expenditures. In contrast, the bill would provide an additional $46 million for Research and Related Activities at NSF “targeted to programs that foster innovation and U.S. economic competitiveness, including funding for research on advanced manufacturing, physics, mathematics, cybersecurity, neuroscience and STEM education.”

The full House considered a Military Construction-Veterans Affairs (VA) measure (HR 4974) that would provide $663 million (a five percent increase) for the VA Medical and Prosthetic Research Program. During remarks on the House floor, Appropriations Committee ranking member Nita Lowey (D-NY) noted that she was especially pleased about the proposed increase for medical research. The House passed HR 4974 by a vote of 295-129 on May 19.

Across the Capitol, action in the Senate Appropriations Committee focused on the Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies spending bill. The measure would provide $375 million for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), an increase of $25 million over FY 2016. It would also furnish $1.178 billion for Salaries and Expenses at the Agricultural Research Service at USDA, $33 million above the current level. Members of the subcommittee, including Chairman Jerry Moran (R-KS), Ranking Member Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), all spoke highly of AFRI and the other research programs sponsored by USDA. The bill was unanimously approved by the full Senate Appropriations Committee.

On the Senate floor, a package that combined the Military Construction-VA  (S 2806) and Transportation-Housing and Urban Development measures passed by a vote of 89-8. S 2806 includes $675 million, a $44 million (seven percent) increase for the VA research program. In addition, an amendment was adopted to provide $1.1 billion in emergency funding to combat the Zika virus.

In other news, negotiations are continuing on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee’s medical innovations legislation. The HELP Committee passed 19 bills that Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and ranking member Patty Murray (D-WA) hope to bring to the full Senate if they can reach a deal to add mandatory funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to the final package. Speaking at a conference on rare diseases last week, Senator Bob Casey (D-PA, a member of the HELP Committee) said NIH funding is one of the biggest obstacles to be resolved before the innovations legislation can be brought to the floor. He cited the strong bipartisan support for medical research as evidence that an agreement is possible.

As lawmakers focused on the 2017 appropriations process, federal agencies received a memo from Office and Management and Budget (OMB) Director Shaun Donovan outlining the Obama administration’s plans for assisting the next president with preparing the FY 2018 budget. Agencies were instructed to gather data on spending so that OMB can prepare a budget database that includes a complete current services baseline and estimates for FY 2018. The baseline budget database is scheduled to be completed by the middle of December 2016 and will be shared with the transition team for the new administration. In light of the transition, agencies will not be required to submit formal budget plans this fall.