Washington Update

Inside (the Beltway) Scoop

By: Benjamin Krinsky
Thursday, June 20, 2019

Possible Deal on Debt Ceiling but Not Spending Caps; House Appropriations Process Soldiers On; House Science Committee Considers Policy Bills

As summer officially begins, Washington continues to stall on budget negotiations. This week, top Congressional and White House leadership met again to try and make progress on raising both the Budget Control Act (BCA) spending caps and the debt ceiling. On Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) met with Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, and Acting White House Budget Director Russell Vought.

Immediately following the meeting, Secretary Mnuchin announced that while a tentative agreement has been reached to raise the debt ceiling, negotiators remain far apart on the level of discretionary spending. The White House is proposing a one-year deal that would keep spending at FY 2019 levels while suspending automatic spending cuts, known as sequestration, that would go into effect under current law.

Meanwhile, the House forges ahead with appropriations measures. This week, the House passed H.R . 2740, a “minibus” spending package encompassing these appropriations bills: Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education; Defense; State and Foreign Operations; and Energy and Water Development. Originally this minibus also contained the Legislative Branch appropriations bill, but it was pulled following political disputes over congressional pay raises. The bill passed by a vote of 226-203.

Among the 221 amendments to the Labor-H minibus that were considered, the House adopted an amendment offered by Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI) that would partially block the new Department of Health and Human Services policy restricting research using fetal tissue. More specifically, the amendment would prevent funds from being used to add an extra layer of review for new extramural grant proposals that involve fetal tissue research. The amendment was adopted by a vote of 225-193.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) wants to move all 12 appropriations measures to the House floor by the end of June. To that end, the House is teeing up a second minibus, H.R. 3055, which would include these appropriations measures: Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration; Commerce, Justice, Science; Interior and Environment; Military Construction and Veterans Affairs; and Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development.

Between the two minibuses, scientific research agencies including the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy Office of Science, and the USDA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative would all receive substantial budget increases.

In other congressional news, the House Science Committee this week was set to mark up a slate of bills, including H.R. 36, the “Combating Sexual Harassment in Science Act of 2019.” FASEB endorsed H.R. 36 in February.