Created by on 05/29/2012

Fiscal matters continued to dominate the legislative agenda in May as members of Congress worked on issues related to the fiscal year (FY) 2013 budget and considered various proposals to address the looming spending cuts required by sequestration. Although Democrats and Republications have called on each other to develop alternatives to the automatic cuts in both defense and non-defense spending scheduled to occur in January 2013 via sequestration, there is widespread belief that nothing will be resolved until after the November election.
On May 10th, the House passed HR 5652, a bill to cancel the pending sequestration by replacing the across-the-board cuts with a lower FY 2013 overall spending cap for discretionary programs such as research funding at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The legislation, which was adopted by a vote of 218 to 199, also eliminates the Budget Control Act's separate caps on defense and non-defense allocations for FY 2013 to allow for higher defense spending. President Obama and House and Senate Democrats immediately issued statements opposing the House proposals, insisting that preventing the January 2013 sequester and replacing the $1.2 trillion in savings that would come from sequestration should be done through a balanced approach of spending cuts and increased taxes. In an interview with Politico, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said he will not support efforts to protect defense spending at the cost of domestic programs. “My people — in the state of Nevada and I think the country — have had enough of whacking all the programs. We’ve cut them to a bare bone, and defense is going to have to bear their share of the burden.”
While the House focused on eliminating sequestration, the Senate, in a surprise move, considered five different versions of an FY 2013 budget resolution (overall spending plan). In March, Majority Leader Reid indicated that the Senate would not vote on a budget resolution this year, since the Budget Control Act had already established the total spending level for FY 2013. Reid reversed his decision, and, on May 16th, Senators rejected proposals offered by Senators Patrick Toomey (R-PA), Rand Paul (R-KY), Jeff Sessions (R-AL), and Mike Lee (R-UT) as well as a version of the budget that President Obama released in February.
Meanwhile, both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees continued working on their respective FY 2013 funding bills. On May 8th, the House Appropriations Military-Construction/Veterans Affairs (VA) Subcommittee approved the bill (HR 5854) that funds the Medical and Prosthetic Research Program, which received $582.7 million, an increase of $1.7 million above the enacted FY 2012 level and the same amount requested by the President. The subcommittee’s bill was adopted by the full House Appropriations Committee on May 16th. A report accompanying the bill notes that this level of funding will allow the Veterans Administration to support 2, 200 research projects. The Military-Construction/VA appropriations bill is expected to be considered on the House floor sometime around May 30th. On May 22nd, Senate appropriators approved their version of the veterans funding legislation (S 3215) by a vote of 27-3, also providing $582.7 million for the VA Medical and Prosthetic Research program. The Senate Appropriations Committee noted in their report that, “The Committee remains highly supportive of this program, and recognizes its importance both in improving healthcare service to veterans and recruiting and retaining high-quality medical professionals in the Veterans Health Administration.” It is not clear when the full Senate will consider the legislation. In related research news, it appears that the Senate Labor, Health and Human Services (LHHS) Subcommittee will consider the bill that supports NIH during the second week in June. Full committee review of the LHHS bill is also likely to take place shortly afterward.