By Jennifer Zeitzer
Senate Recommends $1.8 Billion Increase for NIH; House Bill Flat Funds NSF; FASEB Alerts Generate More Than 20,000 Emails to Capitol Hill
Following a short break to celebrate the July 4 holiday, Congress returned to Washington this week for what is expected to be an especially intense period of legislative activity. Battles over immigration, student loan interest rates, agriculture policy, cabinet nominees, and the fiscal year (FY) 2014 spending bills will dominate the agenda for the next month as lawmakers try to make progress on high priority issues before the long August recess. Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) detailed the legislative agenda in a July 5 memo to House Republicans, mentioning the Energy and Water and Agriculture measures in a list of spending bills that could be brought to the House floor for consideration in July.
Majority Leader Cantor’s predicted schedule of action on the appropriations bills proved to be correct when the House began debating the Energy and Water bill on July 9. Approved by the Appropriations Committee in late June, the bill allocated $4.653 billion for the Department of Energy Office of Science, $30 million (0.65 percent) above the estimated FY 2013 level, but below the Administration’s request of $5 billion. The long term outlook for the bill is uncertain following the release of a White House Statement of Administration Policy stating that the President opposes the bill because the funding level for the Office of Science would reduce or cease operations at major scientific facilities, affecting 25,000 researchers.
In anticipation of the activity on the FY 2014 funding bills, FASEB issued e-action alerts to nearly all of its constituent societies’ members. The alerts urged advocates to email their members of Congress in support of funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF). To date, more than 20,000 emails have been sent to Capitol Hill in response to the FASEB e-action alerts.
On Tuesday, the Senate Labor, Health and Human Services (LHHS) Appropriations Subcommittee approved the FY 2014 bill that funds NIH. The draft bill provided $30.955 billion for NIH, an increase of $1.80 billion (6.18 percent) above the FY 2013 funding level under the agency’s sequestration operating plan. That level replaces the funding lost due to sequestration and also includes a small increase over the FY 2012 NIH budget. In his opening statement, Senate LHHS Subcommittee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) noted, “this bill includes priorities from both sides of the aisle, on topics ranging from Alzheimer’s disease research and public health to science and math education and teacher quality.”
LHHS Subcommittee Ranking Member Jerry Moran (R-KS) used his opening statement to express pleasure that biomedical research was one area of the bill that received bipartisan support, noting that funding for research is a necessary and worthy investment. Several members of the LHHS Subcommittee, including Senators Moran and Jon Tester (D-MT), mentioned the devastating impact of the sequestration cuts on programs funded in the bill and urged their colleagues to continue efforts to agree on an alternative deficit reduction plan. Chairman Harkin stated that he hopes the LHHS bill will be considered on the Senate floor later this month. Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) complimented Chairman Harkin and Senator Moran on their bipartisan effort to write the LHHS bill and pledged to do her best to get the bill to the Senate floor.
The total NIH funding level includes $40 million to implement the new Brain Research through Application of Innovative Neurotechnologies Initiative and $50 million for the Cures Acceleration Network. The bill also provides $10 million to “build the public health research base on how to reduce the threat of firearm-related violence” as well as increased funding for Alzheimer’s research. In addition, a provision is included to extend the existing NIH open access policy to other agencies funded in the LHHS bill. A table showing the funding level for each agency in the bill is available on the Appropriations Committee website. The full Senate Appropriations Committee will consider the LHHS bill on Thursday, July 11. It is not clear when the House Appropriations Committee will debate the LHHS bill.
NSF would be relatively flat funded in the Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) Appropriations bill that was considered by the House Subcommittee this week. On Wednesday, the CJS Subcommittee approved a draft bill that provided $7.0 billion for NSF, $100 million (1.4 percent) above the final FY 2013 level after sequestration. A summary of the CJS bill notes that the funding is targeted to programs that help bolster innovation and economic competitiveness.
Additional action on the FY 2014 spending bills is expected to take place the week of July 15, when the agriculture appropriations bill is debated in the full House. Funding for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative in the House bill would increase to $290.6 million, $15 million (5.4 percent) above the FY 2013 post-sequestration level. The Senate Appropriations Committee is also scheduled to consider the CJS bill later in the week.