By Jenifer Zeitzer
House Continues Work on 2014 Funding Bills; Senate Appropriations Action Expected in Mid-June; New Factsheet Describes Impact of Sequestration on Research Funding
The House Appropriations Committee continued to make progress on the fiscal year (FY) 2014 spending bills as Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) stated his intention to draft and consider all 12 measures despite increasing skepticism that any of them will be enacted into law. With an overall spending limit of $967 billion – more than $90 billion below the Senate level – Chairman Rogers noted that he will move forward on the individual bills while hoping that Congress eventually approves a budget agreement giving the Appropriations Committee a better allocation.
The decision to adhere to the $967 billion spending level provoked a tense debate between Republicans and Democrats when the Appropriations Committee approved the 302(b) allocations (overall spending levels) for each subcommittee prior to the Memorial Day recess. As expected, the allocations for nearly all of the committees that fund the federal science agencies were far below last year’s levels:
In his opening remarks, Chairman Rogers noted that “the guillotine of sequestration has fallen, and…its consequences have been, and will continue to be, very harmful, and it should be replaced in the very near term.” He also added, “sequestration is taking a huge toll on discretionary spending, leaving us with this very low top-line number. Yet our hands are tied, and we must try and make do with the level we have right now.”
Democrats protested the austerity of the funding levels for the various subcommittees and discussed the impact of the spending cuts that were implemented in March due to sequestration. The $28 billion cut to the Labor, Health and Human Services (LHHS) Subcommittee drew the most criticism, as it was noted that agencies funded by that bill, including the National Institutes of Health (NIH), would likely face an 18.6 percent reduction below the FY 2013 levels. LHHS Subcommittee ranking member Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) called the Subcommittee allocations “outrageous” and offered an amendment to replace the sequester with a combination of spending cuts and increased revenue; similar to legislation that she introduced with House Budget Committee ranking member Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) earlier this year. The DeLauro amendment was defeated 22-26.
Nita Lowey (NY), the top Democrat on the full Committee, offered an amendment to postpone approval of the 302(b)s for 30 days in order to buy time while the leadership tries to resolve the differences between the House and Senate top-line funding level. For her efforts, Representative Lowey received a lecture from Chairman Rogers about being “boxed in” by the House Budget Resolution (H Con Res 25), which established the $967 billion spending limit. The Lowey amendment was rejected on a party line vote of 22-26.
In addition to approving the 302(b) allocations, the Appropriations Committee passed the Military Construction/Veterans Affairs (VA) bill (HR 2216) by a voice vote. The bill provided $585.6 million for the VA Medical and Prosthetic Research Program, $2.9 million (0.5 percent) above the FY 2013 enacted level. A summary of the legislation, the bill text, report language, and a webcast of the mark-up are available on the House Appropriations Committee website. On June 4, the full House approved the Military Construction/VA measure by a vote of 421-4, after less than one day of debate.
The House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee also completed action on the bill that funds the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), providing $290.6 million; $15 million (5.5 percent) above the FY 2013 funding level for the Program. Subcommittee Chairman Robert Aderholt (R-AL) mentioned AFRI in his opening statement, noting “the funding in this bill will help keep America’s agricultural research cutting-edge, maintain vibrant rural communities, provide nutrition to those most vulnerable, and keep our markets competitive.” The full House is expected to vote on the Agriculture appropriations bill later this month.
On the other side of the Capitol, Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) published a May 31 opinion article in the Washington Post, detailing the impact of sequestration cuts on a long list of government agencies and programs, specifically mentioning the reductions in spending for medical research. Urging her colleagues to “come together across party lines,” Chairwoman Mikulski advocated replacing sequestration with a responsible and balanced deficit reduction plan. The Senate Appropriations Committee is expected to reveal its 302(b) allocations and begin consideration of the FY 2014 spending bills the week of July 17, starting with the Military Construction/VA bill. Debate on the Senate LHHS bill is likely to occur after the July 4 congressional recess.
In related sequestration news, NIH released a new factsheet summarizing the impact of the sequestration cuts on the agency, noting that sequestration requires NIH to cut five percent ($1.55 billion) from its FY 2013 budget and that every area of medical research will be affected. It also discusses the effect of the cuts on the scientific workforce and mentions delays in medical progress. According to the factsheet, approximately 750 fewer new patients will be admitted to the NIH Clinical Center, and there will be no increase in National Research Service Awards stipends in FY 2013. There are additional links within the factsheet to the NIH FY 2013 Operating Plan, the policy for FY 2013 grant awards, and individual NIH Institute and Center FY 2013 funding strategies.