Washington Update

Inside (the Beltway) Scoop

By: Jennifer Zeitzer
Thursday, March 29, 2018

Congress Making Progress on FY 2018 Omnibus Spending Bill; House Appropriation Committees Hold Hearings on FY 2019 Research Agency Budgets; and “Dear Colleague” Letters Seek Support for Increased Research Funding

Having received their new allocations reflecting the higher spending caps agreed to in February, House and Senate appropriations subcommittee leaders spent the past few weeks finalizing Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 funding levels for all federal agencies and programs. All 12 appropriations bills should have more funding in 2018 than in FY 2017, according to comments made by House Labor, Health and Human Services (LHHS) Subcommittee Chairman Tom Cole (R-OK) in early March.

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) wanted the omnibus to be finalized by March 9 so it could be released on March 12 and go to the full House for consideration by March 14. Although appropriators missed those deadlines, multiple press reports indicate progress is being made and that many of the subcommittees are “nearly finished with their bills.”

Appropriations Committee member Sen. John Boozman (R-AR) indicated he expects votes on the omnibus next week and added that the text of the bill could be released March 18. Speaking about the Senate’s anticipated schedule, Sen. McConnell said that “the chamber will take up an omnibus spending measure before going on Easter recess.”

Similar to previous years, the LHHS bill is proving the most difficult to negotiate. A dispute over policy riders related to Planned Parenthood, women’s health issues, and language restricting funding for fetal tissue research is complicating efforts to complete the LHHS section. Although there is speculation that the riders could force Congress to resort to another temporary budget measure once the current “continuing resolution” expires March 23, omnibus conversations are continuing.

In addition to completing the 2018 budget, Congress is turning its attention toward FY 2019. A House Science Committee hearing on Wednesday reviewed basic and early-stage applied research supported by the Department of Energy’s (DOE) national laboratories, and featured testimony from directors of the Argonne, Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, Lawrence Berkeley, Idaho, and Sandia facilities. The House Science Committee also heard from Director France Cordova, PhD, and Maria Zuber, PhD, National Science Board Chair, about the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) 2019 funding request and priorities.

Earlier this week, three House appropriations subcommittees held hearings to review FY 2019 agency budgets. The Military Construction/Veterans Affairs (VA) panel received testimony from VA Secretary David J. Shulkin, MD. Energy Secretary Rick Perry appeared before the Energy and Water Subcommittee and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar testified at a LHHS session.

Several bipartisan “Dear Colleague” letters are also circulating in support of increased FY 2019 funding for the federal science agencies. Representatives David McKinley (R-WV), Peter King (R-NY), Andre Carson (D-IN), and Susan Davis (D-CA) are seeking signatures on a letter to the House Appropriations Committee requesting that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) receive “an increase of at least $2.2 billion above the final FY 2018 level.” To date, more than 120 representatives have signed the NIH funding letter.

Representatives G.K. Butterfield (D-NC) and David McKinley (R-WV) are the authors of a letter urging the appropriations committee to provide $8.45 billion for NSF in FY 2019. Their colleagues Randy Hultgren (R-IL), Ben Lujan (D-NM), Lee Zeldin (R-NY), and Bill Foster (D-IL) are sponsoring a letter requesting “robust and sustained funding” for DOE Office of Science, although it does not state a desired amount. A separate communication from Representatives Elizabeth Esty (D-CT), Alcee Hastings (D-FL), and Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) to the Military Construction/VA Subcommittee urges that panel to “fully fund the President’s budget request increases” for the VA Medical and Prosthetic Research appropriation.

The appropriations committees are expected to begin consideration of the FY 2019 spending bills in April or May. A specific schedule has not been announced but could be released after Congress returns from a two-week recess for Easter and Passover.