INSIDE (THE BELTWAY) SCOOP – JENNIFER ZEITZER
Created by on 4/22/2011 12:00:00 AM

After coming to the brink of the first government shut down in more than a decade, congressional leaders and President Barack Obama emerged from a meeting at the White House shortly before midnight on April 8th to announce that they had finally reached a deal on the unfinished fiscal year (FY) 2011 budget. The agreement ended days of marathon negotiating sessions and months of fighting over funding levels and policy issues. By the time consensus was reached, lawmakers and the President had agreed on a full year budget through the end of FY 2011 (September 30th) that cut nearly $40 billion in spending from FY 2010 levels. However, Congress was forced to pass a seventh “continuing resolution” (CR) to keep the government open while the Appropriations Committees drafted the details of the broader agreement. That CR (HR 1363) funded federal agencies through April 15th and cut $2 billion in spending from transportation and housing programs.
 
Details of the full year budget (HR 1473) were released on Tuesday, April 12th revealing that $12 billion of the total cuts were included in the three previous CR’s approved by Congress and $28 billion represented new spending reductions. In addition, all non-defense discretionary spending was subjected to a 0.2 percent across-the-board cut. Considering the overall level of cuts, the impact on the federal science agencies of interest to FASEB was fairly minimal.
 
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) was essentially flat-funded at $30.7 billion, a $260 million (0.8 percent) reduction from FY 2010. The $250 million cut applies to all of the Institutes/Centers and the Office of the Director (pro-rated based on the total funding provided) and $50 million is from the intramural buildings and facilities account. Adding in the 0.2 percent across-the-board cut, the total reduction for NIH is approximately $300 million (one percent). In addition the bill does not include the language (that was in HR 1) restricting the average size of competing research project grants to $400,000 or the stipulation mandating that NIH provide a specific number of new and competing research grants. No funds were provided to implement the Cures Acceleration Network (CAN). All agencies within the Department of Health and Human Services (including NIH) were instructed to submit to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees a detailed spending, expenditure, or operating plan for FY 2011 within 30 days of enactment of the bill.
 
Two other science agencies also sustained small cuts. The budget for the National Science Foundation (NSF) was reduced by $53 million (0.8 percent) below the FY 2010 level. The Research and Related Activities budget lost $43 million and $10 million was cut from Education and Human Resources. With the across-the-board reduction, NSF was funded at $6.87 billion, $65.75 million (one percent) below the FY 2010 enacted level. NSF was also directed to submit a spending plan (signed by the head of the agency) to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees within 60 days of enactment of the legislation.
 
The Department of Energy Office of Science (DoE SC) was cut by $46.1 million, leaving the FY 2011 funding level at $4.88 billion. Of the total reduction, $15 million came from unobligated balances from prior year appropriations, $16.6 million came from savings from a contractor pay freeze instituted by the department, and $9.8 million was the result of the across-the-board cut. In addition, we are also pleased that the final bill did not include the provision from HR 1 that would have capped funding for the Biological and Environmental Research program within DoE SC at half the amount appropriated in FY 2010. Implementing the cap halfway into FY 2011 would have had severe consequences on DoE SC’s bioenergy and environmental research programs, as well as its biological and environmental user facilities.    
 
Although the National Institute for Food and Agriculture sustained an overall cut of $125.9 million from the FY 2010 funding level, the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative actually received a $3 million increase to $265 million. In other good news, there were no cuts to the Veterans Administration Medical and Prosthetics Research Program.
 
On April 14th, the House passed HR 1473 by a vote of 260-167 with 59 Republicans voting against the measure (including Labor-HHS Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Dennis Rehberg, R-MT) and 81 Democrats supporting it. Later that day, the Senate approved the bill 81 – 19. 15 Senate Republicans and four Democrats opposed the legislation. President Obama signed HR 1473 on April 15th and it became Public Law 112-110, more than six months after the start of FY 2011.  
 
Although the reductions in funding for the federal science agencies is obviously not the outcome FASEB desired, the collective advocacy efforts of scientists from across the country made it possible to defeat the much more draconian cuts that were included in HR 1. That legislation proposed to cut $1.6 billion from NIH and $359 million from NSF. The calls, emails, and visits with members of Congress and their staff aides had a big impact on the final budget agreement.
 
Both the House and Senate are in recess until May 2nd. Prior to adjourning for the break, the House passed an FY 2012 Budget Resolution (e.g. the budget blueprint that establishes overall funding levels and priorities) by a vote of 235 – 193. All Democrats voted against the budget resolution (H Con Res 34) suggesting that, at least in the House, the two parties remain far apart on spending issues. H Con Res 34 cuts $6.2 trillion in spending from the Obama FY 2012 request over the next ten years, reduces deficits by $4.4 trillion, brings domestic discretionary funding (which supports agencies including NIH and NSF) to below 2008 levels, and freezes this category of spending for five years. The Senate Budget Committee is expected to release details of its version of the FY 2012 Budget Resolution sometime in May. Adoption of a Budget Resolution is a critical step in the annual congressional budget process because it provides the total amount available to the Appropriations Committees who decide on the funding levels for individual federal agencies and programs.
 

When members of Congress return to Washington next month, the legislative agenda is once again expected to be dominated by fiscal matters. In addition to agreeing on an FY 2012 Budget Resolution, lawmakers are facing a closely-watched vote on the federal debt ceiling. House and Senate Republicans have insisted that they will not vote to increase the debt limit unless Democrats agree to further spending cuts and caps. President Obama outlined his vision for a long-term deficit reduction plan in a speech on April 13th, mentioning six separate times that investing in basic research, as well as clean energy research, were among his highest priorities. He also appointed Vice President Joe Biden to lead a bipartisan, bicameral task force charged with developing a compromise debt reduction plan by the end of June. Democrats who will be part of the negotiations include Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-HI), Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT), Assistant DemocraticLeader Representative James Clyburn (D-SC), and Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), theranking member of the House Budget Committee. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) and Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ) will represent the Republicans. The first meeting of the task force is May 5th.


 

 
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