Created by on 12/20/2010

The Grinch may end up stealing Christmas unless lawmakers reach quick agreements on two key pieces of legislation that need to be completed before the end of December. Although House and Senate leaders had hoped to wrap up the 111th Congress by Saturday, December 18th, their wish ran into trouble on two fronts. As the Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill to renew the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts and extend unemployment benefits, members of the House Democratic Caucus made it clear that they opposed the deal between President Obama and the Democratic and Republican leadership that formed the basis of the Senate legislation. After another day of negotiations, the House passed the tax cut and unemployment extension bill late on December 16th.

While the tax drama unfolded in the House, a showdown over the fiscal year (FY) 2011 budget took center stage in the Senate where Democratic leaders discussed a strategy to vote on a fiscal year (FY) 2011 omnibus spending bill introduced by Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye (HI) on December 14th. Combining the 12 unfinished FY 2011 appropriations bills, the 1,900 page measure was intended to be a substitute for a ten-month “continuing resolution” (CR) that the House narrowly passed (212 – 206) on December 8th. The House-passed CR (HR 3082) provides funding through September 30, 2011 for federal agencies, including the National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Science Foundation (NSF), Department of Energy Office of Science (DoE SC), the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), and the Veterans Administration (VA) Medical and Prosthetic Research Program, at FY 2010 levels. For example, the NIH budget would remain at $31 billion under the House CR. In addition, HR 3082 gave NIH the authority to spend “up to $25 million” to implement the Cures Acceleration Network (CAN) authorized by the health care reform legislation Congress adopted in 2009. 

Totaling $1.108 trillion, the Senate omnibus included modest funding increases for nearly all of the federal science agencies of interest to FASEB societies. NIH was slated to receive a $750 million increase, NSF would have seen a $418 million boost in its budget, AFRI would have grown by $26 million, and there was nine million in additional funding for the VA Medical and Prosthetic Research Program. The omnibus also provided $50 million for NIH to implement CAN and applied the existing NIH “public access” policy to all other federal agencies having more than $100 million in annual expenditures for extramural research. The “public access” language allowed the secretaries of the affected agencies to establish separate online depositories in lieu of using PubMed Central.
Although the omnibus was drafted to meet Republican demands for reduced spending and several Senators from the minority party previously indicated they could support the measure, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (NV) announced late on December 16th that he would not bring the bill to the floor because it did not have the 60 votes it needed to pass. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (KY) led the fight to block the omnibus, noting that it contained billions in earmarks opposed by Republicans. The next day, both the House and Senate passed H J Res. 105, a three-day (CR) to keep federal government agencies funded through December 21, 2010. As this update went to press, Senator Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (KY) were working on an agreement to vote the week of December 20th on a short-term CR to keep federal agencies operating through March 4, 2011. The House would have to take a separate vote on the CR through March if that bill is passed by the Senate.
In related news, Representative Hal Rogers (KY) was selected as the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee for the 112th Congress. Norm Dicks (WA) will serve as the Ranking Member (top Democrat) on the committee. Nine new Republicans were also given seats on the House spending panel including Jeff Flake (AZ), Mario Diaz-Balart (FL), Tom Graves (GA), Steve Womack (AR), Alan Nunalee (MS), Steve Austria (OH), Charlie Dent (PA), Cynthia Lummis (WY), and Kevin Yoder (KS). Democratic members of the Appropriations Committee, as well as subcommittee chairs and ranking members, are expected to be named in January.
Several other House committee leadership positions of interest to FASEB societies have also been announced in the last few weeks, including:
Chair: Rep. Frank Lucas (OK)
Ranking Member: to be announced
Chairman: Paul Ryan (WI)
Ranking Member: Christopher Van Hollen (MD)
Energy & Commerce
Chairman: Fred Upton (MI)
Ranking Member: Henry Waxman (CA)
Science & Technology
Chairman: Ralph Hall (TX)
Ranking Member: to be announced
Small Business
Chairman: Sam Graves (MO)
Ranking Member: to be announced
Veterans Affairs
Chairman: Jeff Miller (FL)
Ranking Member: to be announced
Although the current session of Congress has not yet adjourned, the in-coming House and Senate leadership have released the legislative schedule for 2011 (see related story below). The 32-week schedule will place members of Congress in Washington for 123 days next year and anticipates that at least the House will be in session through early December.