Created by on 06/01/2011

Despite a few more weeks of intense discussions on budgetary matters, Congress appears to be no closer to reaching an agreement on a deficit reduction plan or a strategy for addressing the debt limit than lawmakers were a month ago. As the bipartisan “Biden Group” continued negotiations about potential cuts to mandatory and discretionary programs, tax policy, and other fiscal issues, the House Appropriations Committee voted 27-21 to approve the 302(b) allocations that were released on May 11th to provide the 12 subcommittees with their individual spending levels. No changes were made to the overall funding cap of $1.019 trillion, which is consistent with the House Budget Resolution drafted by Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI). Although no decisions have been made yet about funding levels for specific programs, the spending cap will force significant reductions in funding for non-security programs. The Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) has contacted members of the House from both parties to urge Congress not to cut funding for research supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Science Foundation, Department of Energy Office of Science, or the competitive research program at the Department of Agriculture.
In addition, the House staged a symbolic vote on a bill authored by Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) to increase the debt limit by the $2.4 trillion necessary to allow the federal government to continue meeting its obligations through the end of 2012. The Camp legislation was overwhelmingly defeated 97-318, although the outcome was never in doubt. Republican leaders sought to demonstrate to Democrats and President Obama that they have leverage in the deficit-reduction negotiations and claimed the vote was a clear indication that additional spending cuts will be needed to secure their support for an increase in the debt limit. 
On the other side of the Capitol, the Senate held a series of its own symbolic votes on four competing fiscal year 2012 budget plans. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) wanted to force Republicans to take a stand on the Ryan proposal, while Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) felt that Democrats should have to vote on the budget President Barack Obama released in February. In the end, the Senate failed to approve any of the plans. The Ryan budget (H Con Res 34) failed by a vote of 40–57, with five Republicans and all Democrats voting against the plan. Obama’s budget (S Con Res 18) was rejected 0-97. Competing proposals from Senators Rand Paul (R-KY) and Patrick Toomey (R-PA) were voted down as well. Senator Paul’s proposal (S Con.Res 20) would bring the budget into balance in five years by significantly reducing defense funding and eliminating the Departments of Commerce, Education, Energy, and Housing and Urban Development. The Toomey plan (S Con Res 21), which received more support than all of the other proposals, attempted to balance the budget in nine years by capping spending at 18.4 percent of gross domestic product (the current level is approximately 22 percent). Given that the Senate rejected all of the major proposals that have been introduced to date, the “Biden Group” discussions may be the only remaining vehicle through which Congress will be able to reach a final deal on the budget.  
In non-fiscal news, both the House and Senate approved the Small Business Additional Temporary Extension Act of 2011 (S 990). The legislation continues the existing Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs, which were due to expire on May 31st, through September 30, 2011. President Obama signed the legislation into law on May 26th. A three-year SBIR/STTR reauthorization bill (HR 1425) drafted by Representative Renee Ellmers (R-NC) was approved by the House Small Business and Science, Space and Technology Committees earlier in May. An alternative proposal (S 493) from Senate Small Business Committee Chairwoman Mary Landrieu (D-LA) was pulled from consideration after Senators refused to end debate on the measure. FASEB supports the reauthorization of the SBIR and STTR programs but opposes a provision in the Senate bill that would increase the current percentage of the portion of federal agency science budgets that must be devoted to small business research from 2.5 percent to 3.5 percent. HR 1425 does not increase the “set-aside” percentage.     
The Senate has recessed for the Memorial Day holiday, although the House remains in session. In a terrific development for the scientific community, prior to adjourning the Senate approved the nomination of Dr. Cora B. Marrett to be Deputy Director of the National Science Foundation (NSF). Marrett has held several senior positions at NSF, serving as Assistant Director for both Education and Human Resources and Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences. More recently she was a Senior Advisory in the Office of the Director where she oversaw the activities of the Office of Legislative and Public Affairs. Before coming to NSF, Marrett was the Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs at the University of Wisconsin. FASEB has a long-standing relationship with Dr. Marrett and is looking forward to working with her in her new position.