Washington Update

Inside (the Beltway) Scoop

By: Ellen Kuo
Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Senate Appropriation Bills Released; Preparations Begin Under New Biden Administration; Lawmakers Vie for Congressional Committee Chairmanships

The Senate returned on Monday, November 9, and the House on Monday, November 16, to complete as much legislative work as possible, including finalizing the fiscal year (FY) 2021 appropriations funding bills, passing a COVID-19 stimulus package, and approving the National Defense Authorization Act.

Following the release of the Senate Appropriations Committee draft 2021 spending bills, Committee Chair Richard Shelby (R-AL) issued a statement noting that the legislation was a product of bipartisan cooperation among committee members. Ranking Member Patrick Leahy (D-VT) acknowledged that there was no pandemic relief in the bills but also said that he wished for speedy completion of the appropriations process.

A chart showing FY 2021 recommended funding levels for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Science Foundation (NSF), Department of Energy Office of Science (DOE), Veterans Administration (VA) Medical and Prosthetics Research Program, and the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative can be found on FASEB.org. Under the proposed new spending level, NIH received $43.68 billion, which was a $2 billion increase. Since Republicans took control of the Senate starting with the FY 2016 appropriations cycle, the Committee has increased funding for NIH by $13.6 billion or 45 percent. For FY 2021, there is a $354 million increase for targeted Alzheimer’s research, $50 million for the President’s premature birth initiative, and $87.5 million to increase funding specifically for cancer research. In addition, the Senate’s proposed $2 billion increase will support funding increases for each of the individual NIH Institutes and Centers and more than 11,500 new and competing grants in FY 2021.

For NSF, the Appropriations Committee’s recommendation provides $8.5 billion, which is nearly $200 million above the FY 2020 enacted level. The Committee recommended $7.02 billion for the DOE Office of Science, an increase of $26 million to accelerate scientific discovery. No increase above the FY 2020 level was provided for VA’s Medical and Prosthetics Research program, which was funded at $800 million. However, the Committee noted the importance of the program in improving healthcare services to veterans. Lastly, AFRI received $435 million, an increase of $10 million over FY 2020 for investments in research and development of new technologies to improve the productivity, sustainability, and quality of American agriculture.

Following media reports that Joe Biden won 306 electoral votes versus President Trump’s 232, the President-elect has begun his transition work with the appointment of a COVID-19 task force. This month is also a busy one for returning senior members of Congress seeking prime leadership positions within their respective parties and on committees brought about by retirements and self-imposed Republican term limits. Democrats do not have term limits. Senate Republic leadership elections were held on November 10. The House will choose new leaders the week of November 16.

FASEB is watching some key committee changes. For example, the chairmanship of the House Appropriations Committee contest is among Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), and Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL). Kaptur holds seniority but Wasserman Schultz has the support of Congressional Black Caucus members. The chairmanship of the House Budget Committee will likely remain in the hands of the current Chair, John Yarmouth (D-KY), and the House Science Committee is expected to continue to be chaired by Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX).

If Democrats assume control of the Senate in 2021, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) will become Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee will likely be led by Senator Patty Murray (D-WA). Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) may take the Senate Budget Committee Chair and Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) could be named Chair of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee.

The 117th Congress is set to convene on January 4, 2021, with 61 freshmen as of this writing. The new Congress will have the most women ever, surpassing the previous record set in 2019, as well as increased representation of minorities and those who identify as LGBTQ.