Created by on 3/14/2011 12:00:00 AM

The long battle over the fiscal year (FY) 2011 budget continued on Capitol Hill over the last month as lawmakers failed to reach consensus on a long term federal spending plan and settled instead on a series of temporary funding measures. After considering hundreds of amendments over four days of debate, on February 19th, the House of Representatives passed HR 1, a “continuing resolution” (CR) to fund the government through the remainder of the current fiscal year (September 30, 2011). Meeting the Republicans’ “Pledge to America” goal to reduce spending $100 billion below President Obama’s FY 2011 budget request, HR 1 cut $1.63 billion from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) budget, decreasing funding for the agency to $29.4 billion (the same as the 2008 level). HR1 also reduced the National Science Foundation (NSF) budget by $359 million, the Department of Energy Office of Science (DoE SC) by $893 million, and the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) at the U.S. Department of Agriculture by $34 million. The final vote (Roll Call No. 147) was 235 – 189. All Democrats and three Republicans (Jeff Flake, AZ, John Campbell, CA, and Walter Jones, NC) voted against the bill. FASEB launched an aggressive advocacy effort against HR 1, sending a letter to all House members stating strong opposition to the $1.6 billion cut for NIH and generating more than a thousand phone calls to Capitol Hill from concerned researchers and lab personnel.

Following passage of HR 1, both the House and Senate left Washington for the week-long President’s Day recess. Lawmakers returned to the Capitol with only five days to either agree on a temporary budget or shut down the government. On March 1st, by a vote of 335 – 91, the House passed a two-week CR (H J Res 44) to keep most government agencies funded through March 18th at FY 2010 levels. Although H J Res 44 cut four billion in FY 2010 earmarks and eliminated funding for eight programs slated for termination in the President’s FY 2012 budget, the bill did not include any spending reductions for NIH, NSF, AFRI or the Veterans Administration Medical and Prosthetics Research program. The Senate approved (91 – 9) H J Res 44 less than 24 hours later. 
Having narrowly averted a government shutdown, Republican and Democratic leaders engaged in a fresh round of political posturing with House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) demanding that the Senate vote on HR 1 and Harry Reid (D-NV) insisting that the bill would not pass the chamber. Facing pressure from Republicans to produce an alternative to HR 1, on March 4th Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-HI) introduced S Amendment 149, a Democratic plan to reduce spending by $6.5 billion below FY 2010 levels. The Senate Democrats’ version flat-funded NIH at the 2010 level of $31 billion, reduced the NSF and DoE SC budgets by $21 million and $171 million respectively, and provided an $18 million increase for AFRI. Senator Reid then scheduled votes on both HR 1 and the Democrats’ alternative.
On March 9th, the Senate defeated both bills – an outcome that surprised no one on Capitol Hill. HR 1 failed by a vote of 44 - 56. All Democrats and Republican Senators Mike Lee (Utah), Rand Paul (KY), and Jim DeMint (SC) voted against HR 1. Lee, Paul, and DeMint voted “no” because they wanted additional funding cuts beyond the levels included in HR 1. The vote on the Senate Democratic alternative (S Amendment 149) was 42 - 58, with every Republican and 11 Democrats rejecting the measure. Democrats who voted against S Amendment 149 cited various reasons for doing so. Some felt it didn’t reduce spending enough while others thought the measure fell short because it relied only on cuts to nondefense discretionary funding as a solution to deficit reduction. FASEB was active in helping to defeat HR 1 in the Senate, issuing an action alert and writing all Senators to urge them to vote against the legislation.
Although there are many factors to consider when analyzing the Senate votes, the bottom line is that the two parties and two chambers of Congress have still not come any closer to reaching an agreement on the FY 2011 budget. Compromise to find the middle ground will be necessary. However, it is not immediately clear how much longer it will take Congress to finish work on the FY 2011 spending bills. In the meantime, it appears that lawmakers will turn to yet another short term CR rather than shut down the government. As this Washington Update went to press, the House was expected to vote on H J Res 48 which would fund nearly all government agencies at FY 2010 levels for three weeks (through April 8th). The latest CR (H J Res 48) includes six billion in spending reductions, earmark rescissions, and program terminations. In good news for the research community, NIH, NSF, and the DoE SC were once again spared from any funding cuts. A press release from the House Appropriations Committee noted that all of the cuts in H J Res 48 were also included in HR 1 and that many of the reductions and terminations were supported by President Obama in his annual budget requests.
As Congress enters the next phase of negotiations on the FY 2011 budget, FASEB will continue to encourage lawmakers to reject any cuts in funding for scientific research. A new analysis released by FASEB (see related story in this newsletter) explains the devastating impact of the $1.6 billion cut for NIH that was passed by the House and predicts that reductions of this level will create a funding crisis in the medical research community. In addition, FASEB leaders will be on Capitol Hill March 29th in an effort to identify and cultivate additional champions for NIH.