Inside (the Beltway) Scoop
Created by lgreen on 11/21/2013 10:52:23 AM

By Jennifer Zeitzer


Budget Conference Committee Meets For Second Time; Appropriators Frustrated With Slow Pace of Budget Discussions; Senators Speak Up in Support of Research Funding


With less than a month until the December 13 deadline, the budget conference committee appears to have made little progress towards reaching an agreement on the unfinished fiscal year (FY) 2014 budget. Other than reiterating the need to resolve the lingering dispute over the top-line FY 2014 spending level and expressing interest in avoiding the next round of sequestration cuts, the committee’s second meeting on November 13 was unproductive.


The two-hour hearing featured testimony and a slide presentation from Congressional Budget Office (CBO) Director Douglas Elmendorf, who noted that “A clear resolution of the long-term budgetary concerns would be beneficial. But even if that is not feasible right now, reallocating elements of the budget to comport better with the country’s priorities as lawmakers view them, while reducing uncertainty about fiscal policy next year and improving or at least not worsening the long-run budget outlook, would be a good thing—even if it left significant challenges to be addressed in next year’s budget process.” He repeatedly urged the committee not to give up, saying, "Big steps are better than small steps, but small steps are better than no steps at all. And no steps at all would be better than steps backwards." In addition, Elmendorf released a new CBO report that offers more than 100 options for reducing the deficit by decreasing spending and increasing revenues. The suggestions in the report are projected to produce more than $13 trillion in savings over the next ten years.


While most of the comments during the question and answer portion of the hearing focused on the unemployment rate, efforts to reform the tax code, and savings from closing tax loopholes, a few committee members commented on the federal investment in research and development. Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) asked about the impact of reduced spending on research and innovation. Director Elmendorf gave a strong defense of the importance of the federal role in funding basic research and mentioned that CBO is planning to release a new chartbook with data on federal and private sector investments in research. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) noted that the U.S. is reducing its commitment to research funding while countries like China and India are increasing their investment.

No additional public meetings of the conference committee have been scheduled, and the negotiations appear to have moved behind closed doors. House and Senate appropriators, who face a January 15, 2014, deadline to reach agreement on a plan to fund the government once the current continuing resolution (CR) expires, are clearly frustrated with the lack of progress in the budget discussions. On November 18, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers and the 12 chairmen of the appropriations subcommittees, who cannot move forward until they know the spending limit for FY 2014, sent a letter to the budget conference committee urging its members to “reach an agreement on the FY 2014 and FY 2015 spending caps as soon as possible,” specifically requesting they do so before the Thanksgiving recess or December 2 at the latest. The letter further noted that “The American people deserve a detailed budget blueprint that makes rational and intelligent choices on funding by their elected representatives, not by a meat ax.”

The House appropriations leadership also warned of the potential consequences if the budget conference committee does not act, including another government shutdown, the likelihood of federal agencies operating under an extended CR “based on prior year outdated spending needs and priorities,” and more fiscal confusion if no agreement is made on a common spending cap for FY 2015 and FY 2014. The letter follows a similar
communication sent by Chairman Rogers and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski to the budget conferees in late October. 


Given what is at stake for agencies and programs, members of Congress are also starting to provide input on their spending priorities to the conference committee. A bipartisan group of 35 senators (listed below) led by Robert Casey (D-PA) and Richard Burr (R-NC) sent their own letter to the conferees, asking that they “maintain a strong commitment to funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH).” The letter reminded the budget negotiators to “consider the tremendous benefits of a sustained investment in the NIH” and asked that they “remember our Nation’s role as a world leader in biomedical research.”


In a press release announcing the letter, Senator Casey said, “Medical research has changed the lives of patients and families all while driving economic growth.” Senator Burr added, “Investing in medical research not only makes certain that patients and health care providers will continue to have access to lifesaving treatments, but also ensures that innovation in the field of biomedical research will help the U.S. remain globally competitive and continue to drive economic growth.”


The next few weeks will be critical as the budget conference committee continues their negotiations and the appropriators prepare to finish work on the FY 2014 spending bills. The Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) encourages everyone in the research community to let Congress know how the continued uncertainty about the budget and the impact of the sequestration cuts are disrupting research across the country. Researchers can contact their senators and representatives through an e-action alert available on the FASEB website.


Senators Who Signed the NIH Letter to the Budget Conference Committee

Mark Begich (D-AK)

Richard Blumenthal (D-CT)

Barbara Boxer (D-CA)

Sherrod Brown (D-OH)

Richard Burr (R-NC)

Maria Cantwell (D-WA)

Ben Cardin (D-MD)

Robert Casey (D-PA)

Tom Coburn (R-OK)

Susan Collins (R-ME)

Joe Donnelly (D-IN)

Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)

Al Franken (D-MN)

Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)

Kay Hagan (D-NC)

Martin Heinrich (D-NM)

Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND)

Mazie Hirono (D-HI)

Tim Johnson (D-SD)

Mark Kirk (R-IL)

Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)

Mary Landrieu (D-LA)

Carl Levin (D-MI)

Joe Manchin (D-WV)

Edward Markey (D-MA)

Robert Menendez (D-NJ)

Jerry Moran (R-KS)

Christopher Murphy (D-CT)

Mark Pryor (D-AR)

Jack Reed (D-RI)

John Rockefeller (D-WV)

Brian Schatz (D-HI)

Charles Schumer (D-NY)

Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH)

Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)