Created by on 06/20/2011


The House and Senate have been on opposite recess schedules for three out of the last five weeks, resulting in few opportunities for the two chambers to discuss critical legislative and policy issues, including ongoing efforts to reach agreement on a plan to reduce the federal deficit. However, the pace of legislative activity on Capitol Hill increased sharply the week of June 13th as lawmakers took advantage of being in Washington at the same time. Republican and Democratic members of the deficit reduction working group led by Vice President Joe Biden met three times and apparently agreed on a goal of submitting an agreement to congressional leaders by July 1st. Although it is not clear if the group will be able to meet that deadline, several legislators involved with the discussions said the level of negotiations is intensifying. Biden appeared optimistic as well, noting that they had reached consensus on reducing the deficit by four trillion over ten to twelve years through a combination of spending cuts, changes in entitlement programs, and possible revisions to the tax code. Those familiar with the focus of the meetings this week said that there also appears to be broad support for including budget caps and specific triggers to control spending in the final deal as safeguards to assure deficit reduction. The Biden group is scheduled to meet three or four times the week of June 20th to resume the talks.
On the appropriations front, the House continued its efforts to complete action on fiscal year (FY) 2012 spending legislation. Thus far, the Appropriations Committee has approved five of the 12 bills including the Agriculture (HR 2112), Energy and Water (see related story in this newsletter), and Military-Construction/Veterans Affairs (VA) (HR 2055) measures. Both the Agriculture (more information in related story elsewhere in this newsletter) and Military-Construction/Veterans Affairs bills were also approved by the full House. In good news for the research community, during floor debate on the VA bill the House adopted an amendment sponsored by Representative Jason Altmire (D-PA) to provide a $22 million increase for the Medical and Prosthetics Research Program, bringing total funding from $508 million (as approved by the Appropriations Committee) to $531 million. However, even with the approval of the Altmire amendment, the FY 2012 funding level for the Medical and Prosthetics Research Program is $50 million below the FY 2011 figure ($581 million). On June 14th, the Military-Construction/VA bill passed by a vote of 411-5.  
The House Appropriations Committee is expected to continue working on the FY 2012 funding bills throughout June and July, a schedule that Majority Leader Eric Cantor highlighted in a June 14th memo to his Republican colleagues. Some Capitol Hill observers believe that the House leadership may be concerned that members of the majority party will not support the 2012 appropriations bills to demonstrate their opposition to spending, even though the funding measures are likely to be below FY 2011 levels. “Not one cut below the current 2011 level will go into effect if we don’t first complete our appropriations bills and make the House-passed levels the reference point for 2012 spending,” noted Cantor’s memo. In addition, the document included a projected timetable for consideration of the remaining spending bills on the House floor. Under the Majority Leader’s plan, the Energy and Water bill would be debated the week of July 4th, followed by the Commerce, Justice, Science measure (which funds the National Science Foundation) beginning on July 15th. Floor consideration of the Labor, Health and Human Services Appropriations (LHHS) bill that provides funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) would take place the week of Sept 19th.
Although the Senate still has not released a schedule of when that chamber will begin working on the FY 2012 spending measures, Senators Bob Casey (D-PA) and Richard Burr (R-NC) recently sent a letter to the leadership of the Senate LHHS Appropriations Subcommittee requesting that they “maintain a strong commitment to NIH” and “continue to invest in areas like biomedical research.” In addition, the letter highlights NIH as “our best hope” for treating or curing debilitating disease and stated that investments in NIH have “yielded an unprecedented number of scientific advances that have improved health outcomes and contributed significantly to the nation’s economic growth.” FASEB worked with Casey and Burr to secure bipartisan support for their letter, which was signed by a total of 41 Senators (34 Democrats and 7 Republicans). Given the current environment on Capitol Hill and ongoing efforts to reduce federal spending, the 41 signatures reflect that there is still strong support for funding medical research, even in difficult fiscal times.
The list of those who signed the Casey-Burr letter includes (Republicans appear in italics):
Akaka (D-HI)
Begich (D-AK)
Bingaman (D-NM)
Blumenthal (D-CT)
Boxer (D-CA)
Scott Brown (R-MA)
Burr (R-NC)
Cantwell (D-WA)
Cardin (D-MD)
Casey (D-PA)
Collins (R-ME)
Coons (D-DE)
Crapo (R-ID)
Durbin (D-IL)
Feinstein (D-CA)
Franken (D-MN)
Gillibrand (D-NY)
Hagan (D-NC)
Hoeven (R-ND)
Tim Johnson (D-SD)
Kerry (D-MA)
Klobuchar (D-MN)
Landrieu (D-LA)
Lautenberg (D-NJ)
Leahy (D-VT)
Carl Levin (D-MI)
Menendez (D-NJ)
Merkley (D-OR)
Mikulski (D-MD)
Reed (D-RI)
Rockefeller (D-WV)
Schumer (D-NY)
Shaheen (D-NJ)
Snowe (R-ME)
Stabenow (D-MI)
Tester (D-MT)
Mark Udall (D-CO)
Tom Udall (D-NM)
Whitehouse (D-RI)
Wicker (R-MS)

Wyden (D-OR)