Created by on 1/31/2011 12:00:00 AM

 Over the last few weeks, the House has made steady progress on two of the priority issues that are the centerpiece of the new Republican leadership’s legislative agenda. On January 19th House Republicans voted unanimously to repeal the health care reform law that was enacted in 2009. Only three Democrats supported the repeal effort.

The following week, lawmakers began to focus on completing the fiscal year (FY) 2011 budget and bringing federal spending under control. By a vote of 256-165 the House passed H Res 38 directing Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (WI) to set a discretionary spending cap for the rest of FY 2011 that “assumes non-security spending at fiscal year 2008 levels or less.” Several days later Chairman Ryan announced that the spending cap would be $1.055 trillion, approximately $74 billion below President Obama’s FY 2011 budget request. Chairman Ryan noted that the figure is less than the $100 billion in cuts proposed in the “Pledge to America” to reflect the fact that almost half of the fiscal year will be over by March 4th when the existing “continuing resolution” (CR) expires. Although it is relatively good news that the amount of the cuts is below what was previously proposed, since the Obama FY 2011 budget request has already been rejected by Congress, the more relevant number is how the new cap compares to the FY 2010 enacted level, especially considering that the House Budget Committee also increased funding for security programs by eight billion. Factoring in the higher security spending, the “non-security” budget limit is actually about $43 billion less than FY 2010, a cut of 9.3 percent.
Following Chairman Ryan’s announcement, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (KY) released revised 302(b) allocations to the 12 subcommittees. The new distributions comply with the overall spending cap established by the Budget Committee. Rogers instructed the subcommittees to find a total of $74 billion in spending reductions and asked that each panel produce a list of “specific, substantive, and comprehensive cuts.” Compared with where the funding levels stand now, the revised allocations for the subcommittees that fund the federal science agencies are as follows:
  • Labor-HHS-Education (National Institutes of Health - NIH): total allocation is $157.02 billion, a four percent cut from the FY 2010 level (or $6.565 billion below the current CR)
  • Commerce-Justice-Science (National Science Foundation - NSF): total allocation is $54.1 billion, a 16 percent cut from the FY 2010 level (or $10.2 billion below the current CR)
  • Energy and Water (DoE Office of Science – DoE SC): total allocation is $29.98 billion, a 10 percent cut from the FY 2010 level (or $3.48 billion below the current CR)
  • Agriculture (Agriculture and Food Research Initiative - AFRI): total allocation is $20 billion, a 14 percent cut from the FY 2010 level (or $3.2 billion below the current CR)
  • Veterans Affairs (Medical and Prosthetics Research Program): total allocation is $74.68 billion, a three percent cut from the FY 2010 level (or $1.9 billion below the current CR)
All things considered, the proposed four percent cut to the Labor-HHS-Education (LHHS) bill could have been much worse. However, it is not immediately clear how a reduction of this level will affect the NIH budget. A key question is whether each agency will be cut by the same percentage even though Chairman Rogers previously said that the appropriations subcommittees will not be considering across-the-board reductions. It is possible that cuts to some programs will exceed four percent. The House Appropriations Committee is expected to reveal during the week of February 7th the specifics of what will be cut and by how much – providing a more accurate picture of the situation for NIH.
Once the spending reduction recommendations are made public, they are likely to be packaged into a revised CR that will be brought to the House floor for further debate and a final vote. The Appropriations Committee is not expected to take individual votes on each subcommittee bill. Majority Leader Eric Cantor (VA) has said that he expects the revised CR to be considered in the House sometime in the week of February 14th and pledged that both Republicans and Democrats will be allowed to offer amendments to the funding cuts made by the appropriators. FASEB President William T. Talman will be in Washington February 9th and 10th for meetings with the new House leadership to ask for their support for maintaining the federal investment in research and discuss the impact of funding cuts on NIH.
In addition to the House Appropriations Committee effort to cut spending, the Republican Study Committee released details about the Spending Reduction Act of 2011 (HR 408/S 178), which would trim $2.5 trillion from the federal budget over the next ten years. The bill would hold FY 2011 spending at FY 2008 levels and proposes to reduce the federal budget to FY 2006 levels for FY’s 2012-2021. It also would rescind all remaining unspent stimulus money, eliminate funding for implementation of the health care reform bill, and terminate federal support for more than 100 currently funded programs. No medical research programs are included among the list of specific cuts. In the Senate, freshman Rand Paul (KY) introduced the Cut Federal Spending Act of 2011 (S 162), legislation that would reduce government funding by $500 billion. S 162 also recommended cutting the NIH budget by $5.8 billion. It is the first proposal that suggests any cuts to NIH.
The battle over FY 2011 spending will collide with the FY 2012 budget on February 14th when the White House Office of Management and Budget releases the President’s annual request to Congress. FASEB will provide a detailed analysis of the Obama budget in a special issue of the Washington Update that will be published on February 15th. Although details of the FY 2012 budget are scarce right now, the President’s announcement during the State of the Union Address (see related story in this newsletter) that he will make investment in biomedical research a priority could indicate good news for NIH.
In other news, both the House and Senate passed HR 366, a bill that will provide another short-term extension for the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs. Both programs were operating under an authorization that expired on January 31, 2011. HR 366 extends the SBIR and STTR programs through May 31, 2011 and does not increase the current set-aside level. The bill passed the Senate by “unanimous consent” and was approved via voice vote in the House.  
The Senate also finalized its committee rosters for the 112th Congress. Democratic assignments were announced by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (NV) on January 27th. Republican committee appointments were revealed in a series of press releases on the 27th and 28th. Although there was no change in the Democratic lineup of the Senate Appropriations Committee, six Republican freshmen were given seats on the panel including Mark Kirk (IL), Dan Coats (IN), Roy Blunt (MO), Jerry Moran (KS), James Hoeven (ND), and Ron Johnson (WI) (subcommittee rosters are expected to be released soon). The Senate Budget Committee also has three new freshman members — Rob Portman (OH), Pat Toomey (PA), and Ron Johnson (WI).

On the House side, Democrats announced the ranking members and released complete rosters of the 12 Appropriations Subcommittees. Representative Rosa DeLauro (CT) will serve as the top Democrat on the subcommittee with jurisdiction over funding for NIH, Chaka Fattah (PA) will fill the same position on the panel that oversees the budget for NSF, and Pete Visclosky (IN) will lead the minority’s efforts on behalf of the DoE SC. In addition, Sam Farr (CA) and Sanford Bishop (GA) were selected as the respective ranking members of the subcommittees that fund AFRI and the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical and Prosthetics Research Program. Complete House Committee membership lists are available via the FASEB website.