Washington Update

Inside (the Beltway) Scoop

By: Ellen Kuo
Thursday, September 30, 2021

Crunch Time for Congress as Fiscal Deadlines Loom

Congress is preparing to ensure that when fiscal year (FY) 2021 ends on September 30, there is a continuing resolution (CR) to fund government operations until it has finalized the 12 FY 2022 appropriations bills. The House passed H.R. 5305, the Extending Government Funding and Delivering Emergency Assistance Act, with a list of anomalies on a 220-211 vote on September 21 to provide funding until December 3, 2021, coupled with a suspension of the debt limit until December 16, 2022. However, such a suspension is a nonstarter for Senate Republicans, who believe Democrats should be able to deal with suspending the debt ceiling without their votes. Given that neither party believes a government shutdown would be a good thing for the country, especially during a pandemic, Congress is expected to eventually approve a CR that does not address the debt ceiling issue. Instead, the debt ceiling will likely be handled in another fashion before the U.S.Treasury runs out of ways to pay the government’s bills sometime between October 15 and November 4. 

Partisan infighting, time pressure, and lack of House and Senate agreement on how to pay for proposed government spending under the Biden agenda are all contributing to the tense situation on Capitol Hill. Over the weekend the House Budget Committee combined the reported bill text from 13 House committees into one reconciliation packageThe $3.5 trillion bill could not be amended during this markup and was advanced by a 20-17 vote. Next stop is the House Rules Committee followed by a vote on the House floor. A separate House vote on a bipartisan infrastructure bill that was approved by the Senate in July is supposed to take place on September 30 after being rescheduled from the original date of September 27.

The Senate continues work on its own reconciliation package. Various coalitions of which FASEB is a member are working on advocating for science provisions to remain in any final reconciliation package. For example, the Energy Sciences Coalition (ESC) sent a letter to Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) urging them to include at least $15.5 billion for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) lab infrastructure and associated research and development activities in a final reconciliation package. Of that total, there is $2 billion for the Office of Science for existing programs as well as new funding for programs, including $20 million for DOE’s Office of Economic Impact and Diversity to support diversity, equity, and inclusion programs.

The Coalition for National Science Funding, which advocates for the National Science Foundation (NSF), provided a statement urging legislators to at least meet or ideally increase the level of funding for NSF in the final reconciliation bill that would add to any amounts it funded in FY 2022.

The statement said that providing additional funds for NSF in the reconciliation bill would allow the agency to fund the numerous highly meritorious research proposals that currently cannot be awarded due to insufficient funds, invest in the growing backlog of research infrastructure maintenance, and ensure that researchers impacted by COVID-related delays are made whole.

Meanwhile, the text of nine Senate appropriations bills for FY 2022 are likely to be released soon, which would include funding for the National Institutes of Health and NSF. The House has passed 9 of its 12 appropriations bills, but there is still a long way to go before the bills are reconciled and presented to President Biden for his approval. Political watchers anticipate that Congress will have to pass multiple CRs that will fund federal agencies on a temporary basis until next year.