Inside (the Beltway) Scoop

By | July 14, 2016

Appropriations Committee Approves Funding Increase for Biomedical Research; Congress Departs for Summer Break; September Agenda to Include “Continuing Resolution” to Keep Federal Agencies Open

Congressional leadership began the year pledging to return the appropriations process to “regular order” by completing action on the fiscal year (FY) 2017 spending bills before September 30. They will leave for the nearly two-month summer break falling far short of what they hoped to achieve. Although the House and Senate passed all 12 appropriations bills through their respective committees, few will make it to the floor.

On July 14, the House Appropriations Committee approved its final bill, the Labor, Health and Human Services (LHHS) appropriations bill, by a vote of 31-19. The measure (S 3040) provides $33.3 billion for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), an increase of $1.25 billion (4 percent) compared to the FY 2016 level and $2.25 billion above President Obama’s request.

Noting that the Senate Appropriations Committee provided a $2 billion increase for NIH, House LHHS Subcommittee Chairman Tom Cole (R-OK) said that the smaller increase in the House bill was “a floor, not a ceiling.” Others also highlighted the additional funding for NIH, including LHHS Subcommittee ranking member Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY), and Appropriations Committee ranking member Nita Lowey (D-NY).

Within the total for NIH, the bill specified funding for the following initiatives:

  • $511.5 million for Clinical and Translational Sciences Awards
  • $333.3 million for the Institutional Development Awards Program
  • $350 million increase for Alzheimer’s research
  • $195 million for the Brain Research through Application of Innovative Neuro-technologies Initiative
  • $300 million for the Precision Medicine Initiative
  • $12.6 million for pediatric cancer research.

Despite the appropriations committees’ successes, consideration of the spending bills on the House and Senate floor stalled due to partisan fighting over amendments. The House passed only five of the 12 measures, and the Senate approved three, including the bill that funds the Department of Energy Office of Science.

Neither the House nor the Senate is expected to spend any additional time on appropriations when Congress returns to Washington on September 6 for a brief pre-election session. With legislators eager to return to the campaign trail as quickly as possible, the focus will turn to approving a “continuing resolution” (CR) to keep federal agencies operating on a temporary basis. Further complicating matters, prior to departing for the recess, the top four

Further complicating matters, prior to departing for the recess, the top four Senate Democrats sent a letter to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran (R-MS) threatening to block consideration of the remaining bills unless the Republican leaders pledged to reject controversial policy provisions and adhere to the spending levels agreed to last fall.

Although no decisions have been made yet, the duration of the CR is already prompting a dispute among members of Congress. House Republican leaders are said to be considering a temporary measure through March of 2017 in order to gain support from conservatives who indicated they will oppose any attempt to finalize the spending bills after Election Day. However, appropriators would prefer to adopt a shorter CR through early December and then return to Capitol Hill before Christmas to negotiate an omnibus bill combining all of the appropriations measures into a single package.

Representative Mike Simpson (R-ID), a member of the Appropriations Committee, noted, “Relying on a continuing resolution for half of a fiscal year is hard for agencies to live with because such stopgaps merely extend current funding levels without allowing for any new spending projects or programs.”

In an interview with the Washington Post, Chairman Cole stated, “We should aim to get all of our work done.” House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) is expected to meet with his Republican colleagues later this week to begin the conversation about the CR.

Since 2002, Congress has been more inclined to adopt longer-term CR’s in election years, with the exception of 2004 and 2014, when legislators were able to complete work on an omnibus package during post-election sessions. The retirement of Senate Appropriations Committee ranking member Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) as well as Republican Caucus rules that will require Senator Cochran and Representative Hal Rogers (R-KY) to give up their chairmanships in 2017 are other factors that may ultimately influence the outcome of the FY 2017 appropriations process. All three lawmakers have indicated a strong interest in developing an omnibus spending bill while they still hold leadership roles on the appropriations committees.