Created by on 09/19/2011

Members of Congress returned to Washington after Labor Day to confront a long list of policy-related business and a rapidly shrinking number of days in which to complete action on unfinished budgetary matters. With fiscal year (FY) 2011 funding set to expire for all federal agencies on September 30th, lawmakers faced the reality of having to adopt yet another “continuing resolution” to keep the government operating while the Appropriations Committees continued their efforts to finish work on the FY 2012 spending bills. Not since 1996 has Congress completed action on all of the spending bills before September 30th!

On September 14th, House leaders released a continuing resolution (CR), H J Res 79, to provide funding for federal agencies through November 18, 2011. The CR funds the federal government at a rate of $1.043 trillion, the amount mandated in the Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011, which is nearly seven billion (1.409 percent) below FY 2011 levels. Both the House and Senate are expected to vote on the CR sometime during the week of September 19th. Passage of the CR by the 23rd is essential because Congress will be in recess September 25th through 29th for the Jewish High Holy Days. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) stressed the importance of the bill noting, “It is critical that Congress pass this CR and send it to the President as soon as possible. The American people simply do not want or deserve – and our recovering economy can scarcely handle – the dangerous instability of a government shutdown, or any unnecessary holdups in disaster recovery efforts.”
Scrambling to catch up with their House counterparts, the Senate Appropriations Committee met in early September to begin consideration of the 2012 bills (see related articles in this newsletter) and formally adopt their 302(b) allocations – the spending levels that will guide the deliberations of each subcommittee. As expected, the Senate allocations are based on the overall discretionary spending limit that was included in the Budget Control Act BCA. The amounts for the subcommittees that oversee funding for the federal science agencies are as follows:
  • Agriculture (funds the competitive research programs at the U.S. Department of Agriculture) = $19.8 billion (approximately $10 million or 0.7 percent less than the FY 2011 level)
  • Commerce-Justice-Science (funds the National Science Foundation) = $52.7 billion (approximately $60 million or 1.2 percent less than the FY 2011 level)
  • Energy and Water (funds the Department of Energy Office of Science) = $31.6 billion (approximately $10 million or 0.2 percent less than the FY 2011 level)
  • Labor-HHS-Education (funds the National Institutes of Health) = $157.13 billion (approximately $300 million or 0.2 percent less than the FY 2011 level).
A chart summarizing the subcommittee allocations is available on the Senate Appropriations Committee website. The allocations for the Senate subcommittees that fund the federal science agencies are higher than those approved by their House counterparts. FASEB issued an e-action alert earlier this month (see related story below) urging advocates to contact their members of Congress in support of increased funding for medical and scientific research.
In other funding-related news, the current authority for the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program expires on September 30th. Although the House and Senate have been in intense negotiations over the last several weeks to reach a deal on a comprehensive re-authorization bill the talks have broken down over the last several days. The issue of whether to increase the set-aside from 2.5 percent to 3.5 percent (as proposed by the Senate) is one of the remaining sticking points. FASEB is opposed to increasing the set-aside because doing so would reduce the amount of funding available for investigator initiated research. If a deal is not reached on a re-authorization bill before the upcoming recess, another extension will be needed to continue the SBIR program.

Given that Congress is behind schedule on the FY 2012 spending bills and the end-of-the-year deadlines facing the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction, it is not surprising that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) released an updated legislative calendar for the remainder of 2011. The new document projects a target adjournment date of December 8th, although many expect that legislators will be in Washington until Christmas.