Washington Update

Inside (the Beltway) Scoop

By: Jennifer Zeitzer
Thursday, April 26, 2018

Congress Shifts Focus to FY 2019 Funding; Senate Appropriations Committee Unveils New Leadership; Letters Demonstrate Continued Bipartisan Support for Biomedical Research

Following a two-week spring recess, members of Congress returned to Capitol Hill on April 10 and immediately shifted focus to fiscal year (FY) 2019 funding decisions. House and Senate appropriators are hoping for a smoother process this year given that the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 contained increased top-line funding levels for defense and non-defense discretionary programs. Lack of agreement about the spending caps significantly delayed completion of the FY 2018 appropriations bills.

The House Appropriations Committee held 19 hearings this week, including a Labor, Health and Human Services (LHHS) Subcommittee session featuring testimony from National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Francis Collins, MD, PhD. Dr. Collins received another warm welcome from the subcommittee and bipartisan praise for his management of the agency.

Although the hearing was supposed to focus on NIH’s FY 2019 budget request, it mostly celebrated the historic $3 billion increase for NIH approved by Congress last month. In his opening remarks, LHHS Subcommittee Chairman Tom Cole (R-OK) hinted that lawmakers were planning to provide additional funding for biomedical research in 2019, but did not commit to a specific amount.

Like last year, House appropriators will give colleagues an opportunity to testify before the committee in support of federal agency and program-specific funding. The Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) and LHHS Subcommittees are holding “members day” hearings on April 17. NIH funding was a popular theme at a similar session with the LHHS subcommittee in March 2017.

In addition, the House LHHS Subcommittee will hold a “public witnesses” hearing April 26. FASEB has submitted a request to testify, and witnesses will be chosen by lottery. FASEB will also submit written testimony to be included in the official hearing record.

Senator appropriators officially began the 2019 budget process, selecting Richard Shelby (R-AL) to become the new Committee Chairman. Shelby replaces former Chairman Thad Cochran (R-MS), who retired from the Senate April 1.

Like his predecessor, Chairman Shelby will lead the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, leaving his position as head of the CJS panel. A new lineup of subcommittee chairs and rosters was approved, reflecting several changes resulting from Shelby’s rise to full Committee Chairman. Of interest to the research agencies, Senator Jerry Moran is the new Chairman of the CJS Subcommittee which oversees the National Science Foundation and John Boozman (R-AK) will lead the Military Construction/Veterans Affairs (VA) panel that has jurisdiction over the VA Medical and Prosthetic Research Program.

The Senate Appropriations Committee held several hearings this week as well. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Purdue and Energy Secretary Rick Perry appeared before relevant subcommittees on Wednesday to discuss their agency’s FY 2019 funding requests.

With the FY 2019 appropriations work underway, other members of Congress are working to build support among colleagues for the science agencies. Senators Bob Casey (D-PA) and Richard Burr (R-NC) are circulating a “Dear Colleague” letter seeking “robust funding” for NIH in FY 2019. To date, 50 Senators have signed the Casey-Burr letter.

A total of 209 offices signed a similar communication requesting that the House Appropriations Committee increase the NIH budget by $2 billion in 2019. That letter was organized by Representatives David McKinley (R-WV), Peter King (D-NY), Andre Carson (D-IN), and Susan Davis (R-CA).