Created by on 04/10/2012


Capitol Hill has been quiet over the last week as both the House and Senate observe the Easter/Passover recess. Prior to the break, the House adopted a fiscal year (FY) 2013 Budget Resolution (H Con Res 112) on a mostly party line vote of 228-191. H Con Res 112 was drafted by Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) and limits discretionary spending to $1.028 trillion; $19 billion less than the $1.047 trillion cap established in the Budget Control Act (BCA). Within the lower cap, the Ryan budget increases defense spending at the expense of non-defense discretionary spending (the part of the budget that supports the federal science agencies). After the House vote, Senate leaders confirmed that they will not consider the Ryan Budget Resolution. Instead the Senate Appropriations Committees are going to write their bills using the $1.047 trillion cap established in the BCA, setting-up yet another battle over spending which will not be resolved until after the elections in November.
Passage of the Ryan budget and the Senate’s decision to adhere to the BCA spending cap will officially set the appropriations process in motion when Congress returns to Washington the week of April 16th. The House Appropriations Subcommittees are expected to begin working on drafting the 12 individual spending bills under the lower nondiscretionary cap included in H Con Res 112. The timing is uncertain, as neither the House nor the Senate subcommittees have released specific schedules of when each measure will be considered. However, rumors are circulating that the Senate will begin their “mark-ups” in May. The Senate’s goal is to have all of the bills, including the Labor, Health and Human Services (LHHS) measure that funds the National Institutes of Health (NIH), through full committee by the end of June.
Given the overall budget picture, it will be a challenge for Congress to provide funding increases for NIH and the other federal science agencies. While the Senate seems very unlikely to agree to the lower spending limits in the Ryan Budget Resolution, even the BCA cap will limit what the appropriators can do. Concern about how the budget austerity will impact NIH was raised at a Senate LHHS Appropriations Subcommittee hearing at the end of March (see related story in this newsletter) and was echoed in a letter coordinated by Senators Robert Casey (D-PA) and Richard Burr (D-NC) that was signed by a total of 47 Senators (including 11 Republicans). The Casey-Burr letter requested that the Senate Appropriations Committee “maintain a strong commitment to funding for the National Institutes of Health.”
President Barack Obama also commented on the funding situation for NIH at an April 3rd Associated Press luncheon. Describing the consequences of cuts to non-defense discretionary spending that were included in the Ryan budget (H Con Res 112), the President stated that the House budget, “Breaks our bipartisan agreement and proposes massive new cuts in annual domestic spending – exactly the area where we've already cut the most. The year after next, there would be 1,600 fewer medical grants, research grants for things like Alzheimer's and cancer and AIDS. There would be 4,000 fewer scientific research grants, eliminating support for 48,000 researchers, students, and teachers.” A video of the speech and full transcript of Obama’s remarks is available on the White House website.