Washington Update

Inside (the Beltway) Scoop

By: Benjamin Krinsky
Thursday, July 26, 2018

Funding Negotiations Continue; NIH Funding Measure Might Reach the Floor; NSF Appropriations Unlikely to Move Forward Soon

As the DC summer wears on, appropriations season continues on Capitol Hill. Both chambers of Congress have now passed a fiscal year (FY) 2019 funding package that includes Energy and Water/Military Construction-Veterans Affairs (VA) and Legislative Branch appropriations bills, the first so-called “minibus.”

Among its myriad programs, this package includes funding for the Department of Energy Office of Science. A bicameral conference committee was scheduled to convene to reconcile differences between the House and Senate versions, but unfortunately, this process has been delayed. One sticking point is funding for the Veterans Choice Program, which allows veterans to receive health care from providers outside the VA.

The House minibus version would use funds taken from other appropriations bills to fund the program, an approach supported by the White House. Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Richard Shelby (R-AL) has also endorsed this approach, but Senate Democrats would prefer to adjust the spending caps imposed by the Budget Control Act to provide additional money. With the House summer recess rapidly approaching, the conference committee is unlikely to meet until September.

On July 19, the House passed its second minibus, a package that includes the Interior-Environment and Financial Services Appropriations Bills, by a 217-199 vote. Democrats objected to several provisions, particularly related to the roll-backs of environmental regulations included in the Interior bill. Meanwhile, the White House issued a Statement of Administration Policy expressing concerns that the bill contains too much funding for several agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency.

The Senate took up its second minibus this week. This package includes four appropriations bills: Interior and Environment; Financial Services; Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development; and Agriculture, Rural Development, and the Food and Drug Administration. Senators on both sides of the aisle voiced support for the package. In his remarks following the minibus introduction, Appropriations Committee Vice Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) thanked colleagues in both parties for “their hard work and cooperation in putting together the four excellent appropriations bills before us today.”

A third Senate minibus may move forward as soon as the week of July 30 and includes the Labor, Health, and Human Services (LHHS) bill paired with Department of Defense funding. The current House and Senate proposals would fund the National Institutes of Health (NIH) at $38.3 billion and $39.1 billion respectively. Though the package’s final NIH budget will have to be negotiated, there appears to be support in both chambers for the higher Senate number. During the July 11 House LHHS bill markup, Subcommittee Chairman Tom Cole (R-OK) said he viewed the $38.3 billion level “as a floor, not a ceiling” and that he hoped “that this number can increase.” That said, a combined LHHS-Defense spending bill faces a tough road in the House where there is greater opposition to increased domestic spending.

Should the third Senate minibus move forward in the next few weeks, it would be the first time since 2007 that a LHHS appropriations bill reached the floor. Though Senators would likely offer amendments, report language is not amendable on the floor.

The fate of FY 2019 National Science Foundation appropriations is less certain. Though both chambers proposed increases for the agency in their Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies spending bills, Congress is unlikely to bring up that measure for further debate because of ongoing battles over the administration’s immigration policies involving the Department of Justice.