Washington Update

Inside (the Beltway) Scoop

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Congress Still Struggling to Raise Budget Caps; President Delivers State of the Union Address; New Health Secretary Confirmed; 2019 Budget Expected in February 

Efforts to finalize the fiscal year (FY) 2018 budget took a big step backwards January 19 when the Senate failed to pass a “continuing resolution” (CR) the House adopted a day earlier, shutting down the government for the first time since 2013. The House-passed measure would have extended government funding until mid-February.

FASEB issued a statement urging Democrats and Republicans to immediately re-open federal agencies and redouble their efforts to negotiate revised spending limits for non-defense and defense programs. The Federation also noted that a proposed $2 billion increase for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and additional funding for agriculture and other scientific research remain in limbo until the caps are raised.

Three days after the shutdown began Congress approved a CR to fund the government until February 8. Similar to previous CR’s, this one is intended to give House and Senate leaders three more weeks to reach an agreement on raising the Budget Control Act spending caps.

Although negotiations about adjusting the spending limits are ongoing, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) acknowledged that the lingering immigration dispute has stalled progress. However, he also said, “There’s going to have to be some agreement on the spending caps, I believe, before February 8th, because I am skeptical whether the House in particular will vote for another CR.” Military leaders have repeatedly warned that the budget impasse is harming operations and troop readiness, leading several members of Congress to publicly state they will not support any additional CR’s.

Senate Minority Leader Richard Durbin (D-IL) also seemed optimistic that a spending deal was within reach. Speaking to reporters, Durbin said, “We’re viewing [immigration and spending] on separate terms because they are on separate paths.” Other Democrats, including Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) share Durbin’s view that work on the budget could proceed without an agreement on immigration.

A deal to increase the caps would allow the appropriations committees to develop an omnibus spending bill, finalizing the 2018 budgets for NIH and other agencies. That process is expected to take two or three weeks, according to Roy Blunt (R-MO), chairman of the Senate Labor, Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee. Blunt also acknowledged that this timetable would require Congress to pass another CR once the current one expires.

A January 26 FASEB webinar updated participants on the funding outlook for NIH if the budget caps are raised.  Guidance was offered on what researchers can do to encourage Congress to raise the caps and approve funding increases for the biomedical research agencies.

As conversations about the spending caps continued behind the scenes, the Senate focused on other matters including consideration of nominees for key positions within the Trump Administration. On January 24, Alex Azar was confirmed as the Secretary of Health and Human Services by a vote of 55-43. The former pharmaceutical executive and health official in the George W. Bush White House was sworn in earlier this week.

In addition to welcoming Secretary Azar, President Trump traveled to Capitol Hill on Tuesday evening to deliver his first State of the Union address. The speech focused on national security themes and the need to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure.

Additional information about the President’s spending priorities is expected on February 12 when the administration releases its FY 2019 budget request. The President’s proposal is usually released on the first Monday in February. A White House Office of Management and Budget spokesperson confirmed that the request would be late this year due to the government shutdown.