Washington Update

Inside (the Beltway) Scoop

By: Ellen Kuo
Thursday, December 17, 2020

Second Continuing Resolution Keeps Government Running While Congress Negotiates Final Details of Omnibus Appropriations Bill; FASEB Releases Biden Transition Document Outlining Key Priorities; House Appropriations Chair Selected for 117th Congress

Legislators on Capitol Hill needed more time to work on an omnibus funding bill for fiscal year (FY) 2021 to keep the government operating. So last week the Senate passed the Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2021, and Other Extensions Act (H.R. 8900) by unanimous consent following an earlier 343-67 vote in the House of Representatives. President Trump signed H.R. 8900 into law on Friday, December 11. It extended funding for government operations from December 11 to December 18. Meanwhile, Congress is furiously trying to complete the FY 2021 funding bills by this Friday.

There were also growing signs of optimism for some amount of COVID relief being attached to an omnibus funding bill. Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) has taken the lead on two bipartisan $908 billion COVID relief proposals. One proposal includes a $748 billion package with unanimous support according to Senator Angus King (I-ME) that funds the Paycheck Protection Program; extends help for the unemployed; and provides rental assistance and funding for testing, tracing, and vaccine distribution. A separate $160 billion bill, which has less support, provides aid for state, local, and tribal governments in exchange for liability protections for employers, small businesses, non-profits, schools, and churches.

Simultaneously Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) issued his own COVID relief plan, after obtaining President Donald Trump’s support. This version would be about $514 billion, but he has indicated a willingness to go as high as $600 billion. His proposal provides a liability shield for businesses, small-business assistance, and short-term, limited jobless aid. However, there is no additional funding for state and local governments.

As COVID relief negotiations continue, transition activities have ramped up. FASEB’s Board of Directors approved the organization’s Biden transition document outlining 10 key policy priorities. These priorities are ensuring sustained federal funding levels for research; increasing investments in science and innovation; minimizing budget uncertainty; emphasizing the benefits of investigator-initiated research; continuing the commitment to merit review of research grants; developing and sustaining the research workforce; reducing regulatory burden; supporting the use of animals in research and education; promoting diversity; and engaging stakeholders in policy discussions on public access to peer-reviewed publications.

Gearing up for the 117th Congress, elections for House chairs and ranking member seats on committees have also taken place. The full House Democratic caucus approved a successor to retiring House Appropriations Chair Nita Lowey (D-NY). Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) will take the gavel, beating out contenders Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) and Marcy Kaptur (D-OH). DeLauro, the current Chair of the Labor-Health and Human Services (HHS)-Education Subcommittee under the House Appropriations Committee, has long been close to Lowey and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). In addition, if confirmed by the Senate, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra will become HHS Secretary and will be working closely with her.