Inside (the Beltway) Scoop
Created by lgreen on 01/09/2014

By Jennifer Zeitzer

Appropriators Are Making Progress on the Fiscal Year 2014 Spending Bill; Funding Levels for Research Agencies Look Promising; House Leader Outlines January Legislative Agenda

Members of Congress returned to Washington earlier this week to face a long list of unfinished business from 2013.  Renewing expired farming and agriculture programs, extending emergency unemployment benefits, and completing the fiscal year (FY) 2014 budget process are at the top of the agenda.

Although it has been extremely quiet on Capitol Hill for the last few weeks, the Appropriations Committees have been busy working on combining the 12 unfinished FY 2014 spending bills into a single, omnibus package reflecting the increased spending level ($1.012 trillion) in the Ryan-Murray
budget agreement adopted by Congress last month. According to multiple press reports, Committee leadership and staff have made significant progress on the omnibus bill and have been able to resolve all but a few remaining issues related to funding for specific programs and agencies.

Speaking to reporters on January 6, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD)
said, “I’m very encouraged….We’re within striking distance. I think we’re going to get it.” A spokesperson for Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), the top Republican on the Appropriations Committee, confirmed that Shelby has been working side-by-side with Mikulski on the legislation as well. Other lawmakers indicated that they had been briefed on individual parts of the omnibus bill. Rumors are also circulating that the Labor, Health and Human Services bill will be included in the spending package, despite some initial skepticism that it would be left out due to concerns over funding for the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and other controversial programs funded through the Department of Health and Human Services.

Exactly when the omnibus funding bill will be publicly revealed is still uncertain, although details could emerge by the end of this week. An aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said a plan is under discussion to have the House vote on the omnibus around January 10, followed by Senate consideration the following week.  The Appropriations Committee leadership is still working towards having the bill approved by January 15, which is the date the current “continuing resolution” (CR) expires. However, appropriators have acknowledged that another extension of the current CR may be necessary to finish all the work. Any extension of the CR is expected to be extremely brief in order to put pressure on Congress to finish the omnibus bill before leaving for the Martin Luther King Jr. Day recess on January 17.  

The Ryan-Murray budget agreement increased discretionary spending to $1.012 trillion, which makes it possible for the appropriators to provide modest growth over the FY 2013 post-sequester funding levels. In addition, the research community used the holiday season to speak up on behalf of the science agencies. An e-action alert
issued by the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology generated more than 7,200 emails to Capitol Hill before Christmas urging Congress to support the highest possible spending levels for research funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Energy Office of Science, the Veterans Medical and Prosthetic Research program, and the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. As of this moment, there is a positive outlook for funding levels for NIH, NSF, and the other science agencies.

As members of Congress awaited the details of the omnibus appropriations bill, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) issued a
memo last Friday outlining the anticipated legislative agenda for January. Cantor indicated that the House would consider bills related to the ACA, intelligence programs, flood insurance, and regulatory reform. Reauthorization of expired farm and agriculture programs was also listed on the agenda. Negotiators have apparently reached an agreement on a compromise farm bill that is expected to renew AFRI, with an authorized funding level of $700 million (the same as current law).