Created by on 11/19/2010

Although there will be a sea of new faces on Capitol Hill beginning in January, and the balance of power will shift in one chamber of the legislature, lawmakers will face fiscal and policy challenges similar to those that they have experienced over the last two years. The federal deficit is at a record level, our military is engaged in multiple conflicts abroad, demands for reduced spending are coming from both political parties, and high rates of unemployment across the country have left the public demanding that elected officials do whatever they can to create jobs. The biggest difference is that now both Democrats and Republicans will have to demonstrate that they can govern and are willing to make difficult decisions.

Battles over federal spending will likely take center stage as Republicans work to fulfill campaign promises to cut funding for domestic, non-security related programs. The research community has faced similar threats, most recently after the 1994 mid-term elections when Republicans resumed control of the House under Speaker Newt Gingrich. Despite the strong political rhetoric at that time, ultimately there was strong bipartisan support for science and Republicans doubled funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) while they were in the majority. Similar to the post 1994-period, scientists now have a unique opportunity to educate their elected officials about the value of NIH, in addition to continuing to use science as an issue that can bring the parties together.

Committee Musical Chairs
In the House, committees with jurisdiction over funding for NIH, the National Science Foundation (NSF), and other research agencies will be get new leaders. Representative Jerry Lewis (CA) is seeking a waiver from Republican Caucus term limit rules so that he can lead the Appropriations Committee starting in January. However, Representative Hal Rogers (KY) is challenging Lewis for the position. Representative Norm Dicks (WA) is expected to easily become the ranking member on the Appropriations Committee. Subcommittee chairmanships and ranking member positions on the spending panels are not expected to be finalized until January. At this point it is difficult to predict who the likely candidates are to lead the key subcommittees of interest to FASEB members – Labor/Health and Human Services, Commerce/Justice/Science, Energy and Water, Agriculture, and Military Construction/Veterans Affairs. The Energy and Commerce Committee battle is between Representatives Joe Barton (TX), Fred Upton (MI), and John Shimkus (IL). Barton would also need a waiver from Republican term limits in order to claim the chairmanship. The leadership picture is settled for the House Budget Committee which will be chaired by Representative Paul Ryan (WI), with Representative Chris Van Hollen (MD) serving as the Ranking Member.

Committee chairs and ranking member positions will generally remain the same in the Senate except where defeats or retirements occurred. Senator Daniel Inouye (HI) will lead the Appropriations Committee. Current ranking member Thad Cochran (MS) is expected to continue in the same role. The Senate Budget Committee is likely to be chaired by Kent Conrad (ND), who will be joined by Jeff Sessions (AL) as the ranking member. The leadership of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee is not expected to change with Tom Harkin (IA) continuing as chairman and Mike Enzi (WY) remaining the top Republican. House and Senate committee chairmen positions will be announced in December.

Outlook for Fiscal Year 2012 Funding 
Although Republicans pledged to make deep reductions in federal spending for fiscal year (FY) 2012, for the most part they have not released proposals detailing cuts to specific programs. That being said, FY 2012 is expected to be a very difficult budget year for all federal programs other than defense, veterans, and homeland security. In June, the White House Office of Management and Budget directed each agency to prepare an FY 2012 budget request that was five percent below the FY 2011 total. Prior to adjourning at the end of September, House Republicans released their “Pledge to America” proposing $100 billion in unspecified spending reductions. Furthermore, the Presidentially-appointed Bipartisan Fiscal Commission is scheduled to send its budget and deficit cutting recommendations to Congress on December 1st. Lawmakers previously agreed to eventually vote on the commission’s recommendations.

FASEB’s Strategy
Given that the 112th Congress presents both threats and opportunities for the research community, FASEB will launch an aggressive strategy to ensure that the federal investment in research continues, even amid the tough economic climate. In January, senior representatives of FASEB will meet with the new House Speaker, as well as the returning House and Senate majority and minority leadership. We will use our influence and contacts to keep investment in research as one of the nation’s highest priorities. Intensive outreach will be directed at the freshman class. We will identify and visit new champions such as Senator-elect Mark Kirk (IL) who previously served on the House Appropriations Committee and is a strong supporter of funding for NIH. Strong participation from individual researchers can help amplify our message on the Hill. FASEB will intensify its action alerts to members of the scientific community urging them to contact their members of Congress and will host a Capitol Hill Day in late March. Stay on top of breaking developments in Washington by visiting FASEB’s Policy and Government affairs website where you can join our e-action alert mailing list.