Created by on 02/14/2012

Lawmakers returned to the Capitol in late January facing significant skepticism about what could be accomplished legislatively in the months leading up to the 2012 elections. With a schedule that features at least one week off each month and long breaks in August and October, Congress is likely to defer action on many issues, including completing the fiscal year (FY) 2013 appropriations bills, until a “lame duck” session in late November. The Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction’s failure last fall to reduce federal spending by $1.2 trillion will further complicate the 2013 budget picture. Unless Congress identifies spending reductions or tax code changes that meet the trillion dollar target, a process called sequestration will go into effect triggering across-the-board spending cuts for all federal programs in January 2013.
President Barack Obama outlined his policy priorities for the year in his State of the Union address on January 24th. Presenting the country with a new economic blueprint, the President called for maintaining the commitment to funding basic research and development to improve the quality of life for all Americans. Noting that “innovation also demands basic research,” Obama urged Congress not to gut investments in the nation’s research budgets. He also acknowledged that students come from all over the world to train at American universities. In a press release thanking the President for his comments, FASEB President Joseph C. LaManna, PhD, stated, “We enthusiastically support the President’s emphasis on innovation and join him in urging Congress to maintain the federal commitment to research. Sustainable budgets allow scientists to pursue new ideas and address scientific challenges with increased sophistication. Our best hope for future progress remains a strong commitment to science and technology.” LaManna also praised the President for acknowledging that public research dollars have helped develop advanced technologies. “Basic research funded by the federal government is at the heart of medical progress, but it is the kind of investment that no individual or private business could afford to undertake. If we do not have public support for the investigation of fundamental scientific principles, this work would not be done.” FASEB also live-tweeted during the speech and submitted questions to Twitter accounts created by House Republicans and the White House to solicit audience feedback on the speech. House Minority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) echoed President Obama’s message about investing in basic research in an op-ed that was published in The Hill the same day.
Additional details about the President’s priorities were revealed on February 13th when the White House released the Obama administration’s FY 2013 budget proposal (see previous story). Once the President’s budget is released Congress usually attempts to adopt an overall spending plan known as the Budget Resolution. However, it is not clear if lawmakers will move forward with a Budget Resolution this year because the Budget Control Act (BCA) adopted last August already established the total spending cap for 2013 and beyond. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) recently announced that the Senate will not vote on a FY 2013 Budget Resolution. Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI), Chairman of the Budget Committee, is expected to unveil a Budget Resolution in March, although the legislation will likely go no further than the House floor.
In recent years, Congress’s failure to produce a budget blueprint has led to delays in consideration of the individual appropriations bills that allocate funding for each federal agency and program. However, signs are starting to emerge that the appropriations process may move faster this year regardless of whether Congress passes a Budget Resolution. Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-HI) has instructed his subcommittee chairmen to start working on the FY 2013 spending bills using the $1.047 trillion overall discretionary cap established by the BCA. The individual allocations for each subcommittee may be available within the next few weeks, providing the first look at how the spending cap could affect various programs. Neither the House nor the Senate Appropriations Committees have indicated whether there will be any hearings on the budget for the National Institutes of Health (NIH). In the meantime, the committees have said they will accept written testimony from outside organizations concerning funding requests for federal agencies and programs. The House testimony deadline has not been announced yet but statements regarding NIH are due to the Senate by April 27th. FASEB will submit testimony in support of the Federation’s $32 billion recommendation for NIH (see related story in this newsletter).
Although the overall spending limit for FY 2013 is slightly higher than the 2012 level, the Appropriations Subcommittees will still have to make difficult choices regarding funding priorities, and there will be intense competition for a limited pool of resources. Now more than ever, it is critical that citizens become actively engaged in advocacy to educate Congress about the need for sustained increases in funding for the federal science agencies. FASEB will soon launch a new campaign to encourage biomedical scientists and engineers to reach out to their elected officials in their home districts and through social media. Stay tuned for additional details about how you can join the FASEB effort and be sure to join our e-action list!