The unfinished 2013 appropriations bills and the 2014 Budget Resolution collided in a fiscal frenzy on Capitol Hill in the days leading up to the congressional spring break. Facing a two-week recess that was scheduled to start a few days prior to the March 27 expiration of the “continuing resolution” (CR) that was keeping federal agencies funded, and a mid-April deadline to produce a budget blueprint for the forthcoming fiscal year (FY), lawmakers temporarily set aside their disagreements and completed one of the most productive periods of legislative activity in recent memory.
By the time members of Congress left Washington, they had passed an FY 2013 spending package (HR 933) that continued funding for some agencies under a revised CR and combined five appropriations measures, including those that provide funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, into an omnibus bill. Basic research funded by NSF received a $221 million increase above the FY 2012 level. In addition, $33.4 million was added to the FY 2012 AFRI budget.
The House passed HR 933 by a vote of 318-109. Senate approval followed one day later on a 73-26 vote, and President Barack Obama signed the bill into law on March 26. HR 933 includes a discretionary spending cap of $984 billion, which is equal to the FY 2013 spending total ($1.043 trillion) mandated by the Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011, minus the cuts necessary to implement the March 1 sequestration order.
Although HR 933 provides NSF and AFRI with funding through regular appropriations bills, NIH will continue to operate under a CR that provides a $71 million increase over its FY 2012 level. The U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science (DOE SC) is also funded through the revised CR. Despite the funding increases in the FY 2013 spending package, nearly all of the federal research agencies will have their budgets cut by 5.1 percent due to sequestration. The final FY 2013 funding levels for the science agencies of interest to FASEB are listed in the table below.
Various amendments were considered during debate on the FY 2013 spending package. An amendment offered by Senate Labor, Health, and Human Services (LHHS) Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) would have added the text of the entire LHHS bill to HR 933 and provided NIH with a $210 million increase over its FY 2012 level. Unfortunately, the amendment failed to win the 60 votes necessary for passage. Another amendment, sponsored by Senators Tom Coburn (R-OK) and John McCain (R-AZ), to prohibit NSF from conducting political science research unless the Foundation’s Director certifies that the project “promotes the national security or economic interests” of the U.S. was adopted unanimously. Senator Coburn also proposed, but ultimately did not offer, an amendment to place a 25-person limit on the number of federal employees who could participate in conferences. However, the spending package did include language prohibiting more than 50 employees from the military or the Veterans Administration (VA) from attending conferences outside the U.S. unless their participation is “important to the national interest.”
In addition to finalizing the FY 2013 budget, both the House and Senate passed Budget Resolutions setting overall spending priorities for FY 2014. Passage of the Senate Budget Resolution marked the first time since 2009 that the chamber had achieved that key fiscal milestone, although all members of Congress had an extra incentive to approve their respective budgets this year. In January, Congress passed legislation stating that lawmakers would not receive paychecks if they failed to pass a Budget Resolution by April 15.
The House budget (H Con Res 25) was drafted by Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI). It passed 221 to 207 with all Democrats and ten Republicans voting against the plan. The Ryan budget proposes to eliminate the deficit within ten years and establishes the FY 2014 discretionary spending level at $966 billion, which was $92 billion less than the BCA cap. Ryan’s plan also assumes that non-defense discretionary accounts will absorb all of the spending cuts mandated by the second year of sequestration.
Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray’s proposal (S Con Res 8) also sets the overall discretionary spending level at $966 billion. However, Senator Murray assumes that Congress will eventually pass legislation to replace sequestration with an alternative deficit reduction plan. The Senate Budget Resolution passed by a narrow 50 to 49 vote after four Democrats up for re-election in 2014 (Max Baucus, MT; Mark Begich, AK; Kay Hagan, NC; Mark Pryor, AR) and all Republicans voted against it. The Senate considered more than 70 amendments during debate on the Budget Resolution, including a bipartisan proposal—authored by Senators Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Jerry Moran (R-KS) and co-sponsored by Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Bob Casey (D-PA), Susan Collins (R-ME), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD)—to create a special “reserve fund” to increase funding for NIH. A “reserve fund” allows the Senate Budget Committee to modify spending allocations if the appropriators are able to provide additional funding for NIH without increasing the deficit. The Durbin-Moran amendment was adopted by voice vote.
The budget battles of the last few weeks offered a preview of the fiscal fights ahead. President Obama will release his FY 2014 budget proposal on April 10, and the appropriators are expected to begin work on the FY 2014 spending bills later in the month. As in previous years, the 2014 appropriations process is expected to be contentious. The differing spending assumptions in the House and Senate Budget Resolutions mean that the House appropriators will be drafting bills that spend $55 billion less than their Senate counterparts. In addition, unless Congress reaches agreement on a plan to replace the FY 2014 sequestration cuts with an alternative plan, the federal science agencies face another round of budget reductions.