Created by on 8/27/2012 12:00:00 AM

August has been exceptionally quiet on Capitol Hill with most members of Congress at home in their districts or on the campaign trail. When lawmakers return to Washington in two weeks the first piece of legislative business they will tackle is a “continuing resolution” (CR) to keep federal agencies operating beyond the start of fiscal year (FY) 2013 on October 1st. Prior to the start of the August break, House and Senate leaders announced that they had reached agreement on a six month CR. While it is unusual for the leadership to act so far in advance of a legislative deadline, both parties are eager to avoid a repeat of last summer’s threat to shut down the government and reduce the number of items Congress will have to address during the expected “lame duck” session in November. The CR, which has not been drafted yet, is expected to be introduced in early to mid-September and will keep the government funded through March 30, 2013 at the Budget Control Act top line level of $1.047 trillion. It will not include any controversial policy riders like those that were attached to the House Labor, Health and Human Services (LHHS) Appropriations bill (see related story in this newsletter). Given that lawmakers are scheduled to be in session for only eight days next month and in recess through mid-November, the CR is likely to be the last piece of legislation acted on before Election Day.
Sequestion is another issue that lawmakers will postpone action on until later this fall, despite passing the Sequestration Transparency Act of 2012 (S 3228/ HR 5872) earlier this summer. Sponsored by Senator John Thune (R-SD) and Representative Jeb Hensarling (R-TX), the bill requires the Obama administration to release a report to Congress detailing the effects of sequestration on every federal program, project, and activity within 30 days of the bill becoming law. President Obama signed the legislation in early August, and the mandatory report is expected to be released the week of September 10th.
Senate LHHS Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) released his own analysis summarizing the state-specific impact of sequestration on health, education, and labor programs, including funding for NIH. The Harkin report cited a recent Office of Management and Budget (OMB) estimate that NIH’s overall budget would be cut by $2.4 billion under sequestration, resulting in the loss of approximately 700 research grants in FY 2012. Cuts to individual NIH institutes and centers are also detailed in “Under Threat: Sequestration’s Impact on Nondefense Jobs and Services.” The release of the Chairman’s report was followed by a July 25th rally on Capitol Hill to call attention to the looming budget cuts for non-defense programs. More than 300 people joined Harkin, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), House LHHS Appropriations Subcommittee ranking member Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Representative George Miller (D-CA), the Mayor of Phoenix, Arizona, a small business owner, and a single working mother from Maryland to call for a balanced approach to deficit reduction. Speakers described how funding cuts to non-defense discretionary programs would be harmful to all Americans, affecting job training, childcare services, education, and medical research. The rally received significant media coverage from both print and television sources including Politico, the Huffington Post, PBS, and CNN. In addition, the event had a significant presence on Twitter, reaching approximately 150,000 twitter users through tweets from 89 individual tweeters using the hashtag #NDDUnited. FASEB and Federation member the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology were among the top 10 tweeters during the rally. Tweets, comments, and pictures from the rally are available on the @FASEBopa and @healthfunding Twitter feeds.
In related news, on July 31st OMB issued a memo to the heads of all federal departments and agencies providing preliminary guidance on the pending sequestration process. The memo notifies the agencies that OMB will provide consultation and engage in discussion with department and agency heads in the near-and-long term and references the impact of sequestration on both national security and domestic priorities. It also notes that “sequestrable amounts can only be calculated once FY 2013 funding levels are known; therefore, shortly before any sequestration order is issued, OMB will collect information from agencies on sequestrable amounts and, where applicable, unobligated balances, and calculate the percentage reductions necessary to implement the sequestration.” Agencies were directed to continue normal spending and operations in the interim.