Washington Update

Inside (the Beltway) Scoop

By: Ellen Kuo
Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Omnibus Spending Bill for Fiscal Year 2021 Signed into Law with COVID Relief; Speaker Nancy Pelosi Announces Partial Committee Appointments for 117th Congress

Last month, President Trump signed the omnibus spending bill for fiscal year (FY) 2021, but the bill did not have an easy passage. Congress passed two short-term continuing resolutions (CR), on December 18 and December 20, to extend government funding through December 21. Lawmakers completed their work on a $900 billion COVID relief package on December 21 in addition to a $1.4 trillion omnibus spending bill to keep federal agencies operating through September 2021. However, needing another extension of time, the President signed a separate seven-day CR H.R. 1520, the “Further Extension of Continuing Appropriations Act, 2021,” to give him until December 28 to keep the government operating while the package made its way to his desk. On December 27 he finally signed the omnibus funding package, but not before calling for Congress to increase the direct economic stimulus payments to $2,000 per person, up from $600.

HR 133, Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 and its accompanying explanatory statements outlined how the funds were allocated. Most notably, National Institutes of Health (NIH) received $42.9 billion, an increase of $1.25 billion above the FY 2020 enacted level. In the pandemic relief section of the bill, NIH obtained $1.25 billion to support research and clinical trials related to the long-term effects of COVID-19, as well as continued support for Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics for COVID-19. Biomedical research facilities obtained $50 million for grants to public and not-for-profit entities to expand, remodel, renovate, or alter existing research facilities or construct new research facilities.

Congress recognized the importance of NIH’s interagency work with the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) to enhance the use of farm animals as research models, which results in scientific breakthroughs benefiting both animal agriculture and human health. Congress also strongly encouraged a continued partnership between NIH, NIFA, and others to develop a next generation interagency program using agriculturally important large animal species that will strengthen ties between human medicine, veterinary medicine, and animal sciences. Lastly, there was agreement that the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) within NIFA be funded at $435 million or $10 million above the FY 2020 enacted level.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) received $8.5 billion, an increase of $200 million over the FY 2020 enacted level and included $6.9 billion for research. Congress also directed NSF’s core research to be maintained at least at the FY 2020 level, including supporting existing observational networks, research infrastructure, the academic research fleet, federally funded research and development centers, and national high-performance computing centers. The Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction account was funded at $241 million, which included $76.2 million for mid-scale infrastructure.

Rounding out the last few areas that FASEB focused its advocacy efforts on in 2020 was the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science, which received $7.02 billion, an increase of $26 million above the enacted FY 2020 level and $1.2 billion above the President’s request. Congress also encouraged the Department to expand its relationships with NIH and work together more strategically to leverage the Department’s research capabilities, including instrumentation, materials, modeling and simulation, and data science.

Another area of FASEB’s focus that was included in the omnibus bill was the Veterans Medical and Prosthetic Research program, which received $815 million, plus reimbursements, to remain available until September 30, 2022. The Secretary of Veterans Affairs must also ensure that sufficient amounts appropriated are available for prosthetic research, specifically for female veterans, and toxic exposure research.

In the omnibus bill’s focus on COVID relief, there was a major injection of new federal monies after April’s $1.76 billion in the CARES Act to support those struggling to cope with the fallout from the pandemic. It came to fruition after months of wrangling over the terms. According to Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), the coronavirus section is the second largest stimulus ever. Democrats dropped their sticking point of state and local aid and Republicans did not obtain their liability protections for COVID-related lawsuits. It also does not contain the $15.5 billion in research relief sought by the research community for the NIH, or any additional emergency funding for the NSF.

Meanwhile, FASEB will continue to monitor the makeup of key committees for the 117th Congress. In December House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) issued a press release announcing Democratic Steering Committee recommendations for new appointments to the House Appropriations Committee, including:

  • Adriano Espaillat (NY)
  • Josh Harder (CA)
  • Susie Lee (NV)
  • David Trone (MD)
  • Lauren Underwood (IL)
  • Jennifer Wexton (VA)