Washington Update

Inside (the Beltway) Scoop

By: Ellen Kuo
Thursday, April 13, 2023
Administration Officials Testify Before Congress Defending the President’s Budget

Among those administration officials who recently testified in support of President Biden’s budget was U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra. It was his first time to testify before a Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives. He had already appeared before the Senate Finance Committee followed by the House Ways and Means Committee and the House Appropriations Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies (LHHS) subcommittee on the same day. His last stop was the House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee   before Congress recessed for two weeks. 

During the LHHS subcommittee hearing, Chair Robert Aderholt said that research on diseases, especially cancer, is a top priority whether the research is done at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) or at universities. LHHS Ranking Member Rosa DeLauro focused on maternal health, childcare, and other issues during her questioning. She also said that less than a 2 percent increase for the NIH is too little. Under the president’s budget ARPA-H would obtain a $1 billion increase, which she said was a “disproportionate increase” in relation to NIH.

Secretary Becerra began his testimony surrounded by Alzheimer advocates clad in purple, who had also attended his hearing before the Senate Finance Committee. They were positively acknowledged by members for their presence and advocacy to encourage coverage for treatment of the disease. Becerra focused on the many successes of this administration, which included lowering insulin prices, completing the largest vaccination program in history for COVID, giving preventive vaccines for free to seniors on Medicare, providing health insurance to 60 million Americans, and refocusing healthcare on wellness care versus illness care using food as medicine.  

DeLauro wanted to know about the status of 988—essentially 911 for someone experiencing a mental health crisis. She also asked whether Republicans had asked about the impact of Republican spending cuts, noting she had received information from agency heads in response to her letters sent on January 19 inquiring about cuts that would be required if FY 2024 funding was capped at the fiscal year (FY 2022) enacted level as proposed by some House Republicans. HHS responded in writing that “a 22% reduction in funding would force the National Institutes of Health to support an estimated 5,000 fewer grants, which will slow discoveries to cure disease and save lives.” Other agencies’ responses are here, including National Science Foundation’s (NSF), which says, “A reduction to NSF’s 2023 enacted level to FY 2022 would result in the agency making approximately 2,200 fewer awards and able to support over 31,000 fewer researchers, students, and others. Reducing the FY 2023 enacted levels by 22% would lead to approximately 4,600 fewer awards and approximately 66,000 people who could not be supported in their pursuit of STEM.”

Democrats focused their questioning on the impacts of cuts on the LHHS subcommittee —a people’s-oriented committee—where maternal health especially for black and brown women is lacking. Additionally, Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) was concerned about the hundreds of thousands of children who would be impacted with no access to Head Start or childcare and thousands of adults who would no longer be able to access opioid care if such cuts occurred. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI) questioned how proposed cuts would impact opioid addicts who are seeking treatment and Meals on Wheels for seniors, mentioning his own mother benefited from this program.

Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-TN) questioned Becerra focusing on maintaining the country’s strategic stockpile of personal protective equipment and other items for the next pandemic He is currently the House Appropriations Chair of the Energy and Water subcommittee where funding for national labs a top priority for him. See FASEB’s federal funding recommendations for FY 2024, which include the Department of Energy Office of Science that stewards 10 national labs.

Rep. John Moolenaar (R-MI) wanted to know if the public health emergency was over for COVID. Becerra responded that we are in a “different place” but approximately 300 people a day are still dying from COVID. Moolenaar wanted to determine if there was a way to pull back some of the funding from HHS for items such as personal protective equipment that had not yet been committed by HHS but were in its pipeline to be used as a way to repurpose it.