Inside (the Beltway) Scoop
Created by on 9/12/2013 12:00:00 AM

By Jennifer Zeitzer

Congress Expected to Consider Temporary Funding Measure; Next Fiscal Fight Coming in October; New Bill Attempts to Improve Career Opportunities for Younger Researchers

On Monday, members of Congress returned to Washington after a five-week summer recess, leaving the House only nine working days to reach agreement on several major fiscal and policy issues.  Their immediate attention is now focused on approving a “continuing resolution” (CR) and authorizing the use of military force in Syria. The timing on the Syria vote is unclear; however, House and Senate leaders have indicated it could come within the next week.
With the end of fiscal year (FY) 2013 – September 30 – rapidly approaching, Congress is expected to negotiate a 60 to 90 day CR to keep the government funded at the current, post-sequester rate of $988 billion. With the House scheduled to be on another short break during the week of September 23, Congress will vote on the CR next week. Although passage of a CR will avoid a government shutdown, federal agencies, like the National Institutes of Health (NIH), will be unable to begin new initiatives.  
The long-term fiscal outlook for FY 2014 will depend on how Congress handles the unfinished spending bills that were approved by the Appropriations Committees this summer and whether or not both parties are able to agree on replacing the sequestration cuts with an alternative deficit reduction plan. One possible outcome is an “omnibus” bill that combines funding for all federal agencies and programs into a single package that could be passed in December before (or as) the CR expires. Another option is to wrap consideration of the FY 2014 funding issues into a larger bill that addresses a related fiscal matter: raising the debt ceiling.
On August 26, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew sent a letter to House and Senate leadership announcing that the government will hit the debt ceiling in mid-October and urging Congress to raise the ceiling “as soon as possible.” This is a significant development, as most forecasters had said the debt limit decision could be held off until November. Republicans are rumored to be drafting a list of things they want in exchange for raising the debt ceiling, including a delay in the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, additional spending cuts, approval of the Keystone oil pipeline, and changes in entitlement programs. However, President Obama continues to insist that he will not negotiate on raising the debt limit, leaving no clear path forward for resolving the budget disputes.

In other news from Capitol Hill, Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) is planning to introduce legislation in September to create the Next Generation Research Initiative within the NIH Office of the Director. Designed  to improve career opportunities for young researchers, the initiative will continue existing efforts (including the Pathway to Independence Awards and the NIH Director’s New Innovator Awards) to help early-stage investigators secure grant funding and allow NIH to implement the recommendations of the Biomedical Workforce Working Group and the Working Group on Diversity in the Biomedical Workforce. It will also authorize a new study by the National Academy of Sciences to review factors affecting the ability of new investigators to enter the biomedical research workforce. FASEB will monitor this legislation and provide additional analysis once the bill has been introduced.