Washington Update

Inside (the Beltway) Scoop

By: Benjamin Krinsky
Wednesday, April 10, 2019

House Committee Considers Spending Caps Legislation; NIH Director Testifies Before House Appropriations Subcommittee

On April 3, the House Budget Committee marked up H.R. 2021, the Investing for the People Act of 2019. The legislation proposes to raise the Budget Control Act (BCA) discretionary spending caps for fiscal years (FYs) 2020 and 2021. The spending caps under current law, as well as the committee’s proposal, are summarized in the following table:

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Table: Discretionary spending caps in FY 2019-2021. Amounts indicated are in billions of dollars.

Though the bill was approved by the committee 19-17, its legislative fate is uncertain. Republicans criticized the bill for not following the contours of a true budget resolution, which would typically provide greater detail about spending levels for various government programs. Meanwhile, some Democrats spoke in favor of higher non-defense discretionary spending levels than the legislation provides, while others demanded offsetting spending cuts in mandatory programs. Given these differences, when the measure might be brought to the floor for a vote is not clear.

The Senate Budget Committee passed a markedly different budget proposal two weeks ago. Their resolution would adhere to the current spending caps. Although much discussion is occurring on both sides of the Hill about raising the BCA spending caps, how it will be reconciled remains to be seen. Without a clear consensus on overall spending, what numbers the House and Senate Appropriations Committees will use to mark up FY 2020 spending bills is unknown.

In other news, on April 2, National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Francis Collins, MD, PhD, testified before the House Labor, Health, and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee on the administration’s FY 2020 NIH budget request. Dr. Collins’ testimony focused on the participation of volunteers in NIH-funded studies  to advance medical research. Drs. Diana Bianchi (Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development), Anthony Fauci (National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases), Gary Gibbons (National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute), Doug Lowy (National Cancer Institute), and Nora Volkow (National Institute on Drug Abuse) also testified.

Committee members on both sides of the aisle voiced strong support for NIH. Subcommittee Chair Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) stated that funding NIH “has the power to do more good for people than almost anything else within the purview of this subcommittee, or for that matter, in the federal government.”  Subcommittee Ranking Member Tom Cole (R-OK) was likewise effusive, stating that a “sustained, steady commitment to increasing funding for NIH is critical.” Nita Lowey (D-NY), Chair of the full House Committee on Appropriations, voiced her desire to increase the NIH budget “as much as we possibly can.”

During the hearing, subcommittee members asked questions on a range of topics. Rep. Roybal-Allard (D-CA) cast doubt on the usefulness of animals in biomedical research. In his reply, Dr. Collins stated that “there are some areas where animal models have been disappointing. . . on the other hand, I could certainly point to some animal models that are quite faithful reproductions of the human circumstance.” He emphasized areas such as tissue chip research through the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences.

Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) raised two other politically charged areas: research reproducibility and the use of fetal tissue in research. On the first, Collins noted the agency’s recent focus on rigor and reproducibility, highlighting new graduate and post-doctoral training programs and efforts to ensure proper study design. On the second, Rep. Harris demanded additional details about a contract having to do with fetal tissue use.  Dr. Collins offered to provide a more detailed written response to the committee. He also mentioned that the Department of Health and Human Services is still conducting a review of fetal tissue research.