Washington Update

Inside (the Beltway) Scoop

By: Ellen Kuo
Thursday, December 2, 2021
Congress Tackles Must-Do List

Returning from Thanksgiving recess, Congress has a list of legislative items that must be addressed. One item is the president’s Build Back Better Act (H.R.5376),  which has passed the House. Negotiations are still ongoing as to how the bill will be shaped in the Senate since there is still concern over the price tag. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) scored the House-passed bill and estimates that enacting this legislation would result in a net increase in the deficit totaling $367 billion over the 2022–2031 period. This estimate does not count additional revenue that may be generated by increasing funding for tax enforcement. CBO provides a breakout by title on its website. For example, in Title IX Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, which includes National Science Foundation funding, CBO estimates that enacting this title would result in direct spending outlays totaling $9.3 billion over the same 10-year period.

Other must-do items include funding the government past the December 3 deadline. After the chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees were unable to reach an agreement on topline spending for fiscal year (FY) 2022 before the Thanksgiving recess, there is the expectation that another short-term continuing resolution (CR) will be needed to give them more time to negotiate. A broad coalition of advocacy groups has called for quick action on a negotiated omnibus spending bill.

Another item on the list is addressing the debt limit since it was raised only until December 3, 2021, under the Extending Government Funding and Delivering Emergency Assistance Act (H.R.5305). U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has said the government will run out of cash by December 15. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) began discussions on how to address this issue on November 18 but no decision was made.

In other news, a promise was made to begin work on appointing a conference committee between the House and Senate to finalize S.1260, the United States Innovation and Competition Act (USICA) 2021, which has only passed the Senate with no House activity. In a joint statement, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Schumer said that a compromise bill will “bolster American manufacturing, fix our supply chains, and invest in the next generation of cutting-edge technology research.” FASEB supported the letter urging Congress to complete negotiations on USICA as well as the NSF for the Future Act.  

The Advanced Research Project Agency–Health (ARPA-H) Act (H.R.5585), led by Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA), has 34 co-sponsors as of November 30 (all Democrats). The timeline for advancing action on this bill is not clear especially since the highly awaited bipartisan 21st Century Cures 2.0 (H.R.6000), was introduced by Reps. Diana DeGette (D-CO) and Fred Upton (R-MI) on November 17. The DeGette-Upton bill includes a slightly different proposal for establishing ARPA-H (see related article).

Sec. 502. Research Investment to Spark the Economy was also integrated into the DeGette-Upton bill, which the scientific and medical communities have advocated for during the past year. It provides billions of supplemental funding to extend the duration of an award disrupted because of COVID–19 and expands the purposes of awards to enable post-doc researchers to complete work in progress; extends the employment of postdoctoral researchers for up to two years due to job market disruptions; creates research opportunities for up to two years for graduate students and postdoctoral researchers; and includes funding to replace lab animals and reagents. 

Authorizations for appropriations were also provided for National Institutes of Health, $10 billion; National Science Foundation, $3 billion; U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science, $3 billion; and U.S. Department of Agriculture, $380 million for FY 2021.