APA Federal Budget Blog

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March 26, 2015

It’s “Budget Week” on Capitol Hill
House and Senate will vote on FY 2016 resolutions.

Both the House and Senate are planning numerous budget votes this week as each chamber's fiscal year (FY) 2016 budget resolution will be debated on the floor, and numerous amendments will be offered by the minority party and various caucuses.

Recall that the budget is a nonbinding resolution that does not go to the president for signature. The budget is, first, a statement of the spending priorities of the majority parties, and serves as a guideline for the appropriations committee as it divides available funds among the subcommittees.

Do the House and Senate have to agree on a budget? In many years, the House and Senate have not been able to hold a conference (reconciling two versions of a bill) to settle on one budget document between them. A conference is possible this year since both chambers are controlled by the same political party. But the resolutions developed by the budget committees in each chamber have significant differences.

Scientists will want to know, first, how the budgets deal with research agencies, and there is no solid information to answer that question. While the president's budget was more detailed, and would provide $29.64 billion for the National Institutes of Health (2.1 percent increase over FY 2015), $6.3 billion for the National Science Foundation (5.2 percent increase) and $1.11 billion for research at the Department of Veterans Affairs (5.2 percent increase), the House and Senate budget resolutions don't recommend specific funding levels.

The president could propose those increases in part because his budget assumed an end to sequestration, and the House and Senate budgets don't make the same assumption. The proposed cuts in both congressional chambers go beyond sequestration caps, which are budget caps signed into law in 2011 that reduced planned federal funding for subsequent years. But because of the Ryan-Murray budget deal in 2014, for the past two fiscal years Congress has passed spending above the sequestration caps, and President Obama's 2016 budget request seeks spending far above them.

The FY 2016 Senate resolution would balance the budget in 10 years and cut spending by $5.1 trillion over the next decade, while the House resolution brings the budget to balance in nine years and cuts $5.5 trillion in spending. Both resolutions would repeal the Affordable Care Act, shift more responsibility to the states for Medicaid and food stamps and make changes to Medicare to achieve the reduced levels of spending.

The resolutions differ on how they manage the defense side of the ledger. Many lawmakers in both chambers have said the sequestration caps, agreed to in 2011 by both parties, restrain military spending too severely given security threats from abroad. The House resolution would “plus-up” defense spending using an off-the-books measure, the Overseas Contingency Operations account (OCO), which includes funds for overseas conflicts and which isn't subject to the budget caps. While the president's budget asked for $58 billion in OCO funding for the Department of Defense, the House budget provides $94 billion. Around $20 billion of that funding must be offset through a deficit-neutral reserve fund. That means in essence that a revenue offset must be identified for $20 billion so that amount is not added to the deficit.

The Senate resolution implements a rule limiting OCO funding to the $58 billion president's request. To provide more funding for defense, the Senate resolution creates a deficit-neutral reserve fund that would allow the Budget Committee Chairman to permit particular committees to spend at a level above the budget limits during the appropriations process. The Senate budget also allows increased domestic spending through a reserve fund, which may make possible negotiations with Democrats who will insist that parity be observed between domestic and defense increases.

Parity is not observed in either of the two budget resolutions. The House budget would cut nondefense discretionary spending by $33 billion (6.7 percent) in FY 2017 and by another $8 billion (1.7 percent) in FY 2018. The budget plan then calls for a roughly 1.3 percent yearly increase in nondefense spending until FY 2025. The Senate resolution also cuts funding below the sequestration levels in the years after 2016 for nondefense discretionary programs — the part of the budget that funds basic scientific and medical research, education, job training, early intervention programs for children and transportation, all of which are important to increasing opportunity, raising productivity and boosting long-term economic growth.

Remember that the budgets are an indicator for spending, but there are many more steps in the process to come. There is still time for the House and Senate to set in motion negotiations on caps and revenue that would change the funding scenario. A “grand bargain” seems unlikely. But still, the Ryan-Murray budget agreement was relatively modest, and especially given the pressure for increased defense spending, an agreement of similar size that gives some relief to nondefense programs like research is not out of the question.

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January 30, 2015

What can we expect from the president’s budget?
And where is Congress this year on budget and sequestration?

Welcome to 2015 and the 116th Congress! In several important ways the budget dynamics are the same as we saw in the last session of Congress. We should not expect large spending increases for science programs. Wide partisan differences remain over budget and tax policy. We can expect Congress to continue to speak supportively of the work of the National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health. And yet we should also be prepared for attacks on some behavioral and social science programs to re-emerge. 

What’s new: Republicans hold majorities in both houses of Congress, so legislation that died at the Senate’s door in past years may well pass now. The Senate majority is not “veto-proof” so it’s likely the administration will use its veto more than we have seen in the past six years. 

We can also expect the fights against sequestration to be amplified, at least by the administration and some lawmakers. President Obama will present his 2016 budget on Monday, Feb. 2, and it will assume an end to sequestration, as did his last budget. According to an unusual presidential blog published in Huffington Post: “In order to get wages and incomes rising faster, we need to take the next step. That's why my budget will fully reverse the sequestration cuts for domestic priorities in 2016. It will match those investments with equal dollar increases for defense funding. If Congress rejects my plan and refuses to undo these arbitrary cuts, it will threaten our economy and our military. Investments in key areas will fall to their lowest level in 10 years, adjusted for inflation, putting American research, education, infrastructure and national security at risk. But if Congress joins me, we can make sure that ending sequestration is fully paid for by cutting inefficient spending and closing tax loopholes.”

Some Republican lawmakers are pressing for an end to sequestration, primarily because of its effect on the defense budget. U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., new chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said last week, “The impacts of sequestration will not always be immediate or obvious. But the sky doesn't need to fall for military readiness to be eroded, for military capabilities to atrophy, or for critical investments in maintaining American military superiority to delayed, cut, or cancelled. These will be the results of sequestration's quiet and cumulative disruptions that are every bit as dangerous for our national security."

If sequestration is not repealed, the spending limit for discretionary programs (including the federal science agencies) will be approximately the same level that it was in FY 2015. A flat budget will significantly constrain Congress’ ability to provide much expansion to sustain progress in research, education or other critical domestic programs. 

The president’s budget is only one event in a months-long march to a final federal budget. Once the president’s budget is delivered to Capitol Hill, the appropriations committees will begin reviewing the details of the proposals and developing the 12 annual spending measures. The appropriations committees will be guided by a budget developed within the House and Senate budget committees. The president’s budget proposal will inform that process, but the congressional budget is written to conform to congressional priorities. 

While little is known about what the president’s budget will contain, last week’s State of the Union address offers some clues. The president announced a new “Precision Medicine Initiative” that seeks to identify and treat disease in patients based on details of their genome. Also, the White House will ask Congress to double the funding for combating and preventing antibiotic resistance to more than $1.2 billion. There will reportedly also be a request for substantial funding boosts for the Department of Defense.

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December 16, 2014

Federal FY 2015 spending bill goes to president’s desk
So what’s in the 1600-plus pages for science and research?

The House and Senate have passed the bill that provides fiscal year 2015 funding to most of the government through Sept. 30, 2015. H. R. 83 , often called the “cromnibus,” includes a three-month continuing resolution, or “CR,” for the Homeland Security bill that funds immigration. The House majority, and new Senate majority, wanted an early opportunity to shape federal immigration policy, so a new Homeland Security bill will be one of the early actions when the 114th Congress convenes in January.

As a founding member of the Consortium of Social Science Associations, APA has access to COSSA's excellent analyses and products. We are glad to share with our readers this terrific summary of H.R. 83's science provisions and how behavioral and social science will fare for the remainder of fiscal year 2015. Thanks, COSSA!

OK, we know you are in a hurry and don't want to read the entire report (although you should) so here are some highlights:

  • H.R. 83 provides $30.1 billion to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), an increase of $150 million over the FY 2014 funding level. While the individual institutes and centers (ICs) received proportionate increases, the National Institute on Aging (NIA) received $25 million in additional funding for its Alzheimer's disease research initiative.
  • The bill language of the agreement provides $165 million for the NIH National Children's Study, “or research related to the Study's goals and mission, and any funds in excess of the estimated need shall be transferred to and merged with the accounts for the various Institutes and Centers to support activity related to the goals and objectives of the NCS.” You may have seen the announcement (PDF, 761KB) that NIH Director Francis Collins cancelled the NCS on Dec. 12, 2014, so those funds remain in the director's office to be used for research.
  • H.R. 83 provides the National Science Foundation (NSF) with a total budget of $7.34 billion, which is an increase of 2.4 percent over the FY 2014 enacted level. Despite efforts by a select few in the House this year to single-out NSF's Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences Directorate (SBE), the final bill does not include language cutting SBE.
  • Within the U.S. Department of Education, the bill provides $573.9 million for the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), a decrease of about $3 million or 0.5 percent below the FY 2014 level and $63 million less than the president's request. Each budget line under IES (i.e. research, statistics, special education studies, etc.) received flat budgets with the exception of the assessment line which was cut by 2.1 percent. (Following the 2013 sequester, assessments in United States history, civics and geography for 4th and 12th graders were indefinitely postponed and have not yet been rescheduled).

We wish happy holidays and a bright new year to our readers! The blog will be back in 2015.

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December 9, 2014

Washington is waiting for the “cromnibus”
Several disagreements are holding up the final fiscal year 2015 spending bill.

The Dec. 11 deadline, when the current temporary spending bill for the federal government expires, is rapidly approaching, and appropriations negotiators from the House and Senate are hard at work trying to resolve some outstanding issues. Assuming those issues can be resolved, the text of the bill may appear later today, Dec. 9.

Appropriators are wrapping up negotiations on a hybrid bill — CR /omnibus, or “cromnibus” — that will include 11 of the 12 appropriations bills. Funding for the 12th bill, Homeland Security, will be passed as a continuing resolution. The reason is that Republican leadership in the House and Senate wanted to re-examine the immigration portion of the Homeland Security bill in light of President Obama's recent executive order suspending deportations of undocumented persons who were brought to the U.S. as children.

Remaining disagreements concern policy rather than funding issues. Given that the bill will be one of the last bills to pass in the 113th Congress, some members hope to attach their legislation to the bill.

These outside issues include a reauthorization of the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act and rules about how much rest long-haul truckers must get. (Senate Republicans have inserted an amendment that would postpone the pending rule, which would require truckers to take 34 hours off between workweeks, including at least two nights). Another sticking point is a campaign finance provision championed by Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., that would eliminate the current restriction against coordination of spending between candidates and outside groups.

Depending on how long the resolution of these issues takes, lawmakers may need to pass a short-term bill, valid for only a few days, to allow time to finish the final bill. Odds of a government shutdown appear very low, with all leadership teams supporting a resolution.

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November 24, 2014

Funding issues still not settled but lame ducks trying to step up
APA cheers for “Team Omnibus.”

We normally think of “lame ducks” as powerless, but the current lame duck Congress (out of town this week for the Thanksgiving recess) will have the power to set fiscal year 2015 spending levels, and set the stage for cooperation or confrontation between congressional chambers and parties for the next two years. Of course the 113th Congress had the power to do those things earlier in the year, but blog readers know that Congress usually takes the procrastination option when big issues are at stake.

Staff-level discussions have increased regarding the budget and appropriations. Appropriations committee chairs Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., and Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., said they are continuing to make progress on resolving the differences in the funding levels for the twelve bills that will be included in an omnibus package. A House Appropriations Committee spokesperson said that the current plan is to release the bill by Dec. 8 in order for it to be approved by Dec. 11.

The science community would more likely benefit from an omnibus than from a continuing resolution (CR). Earlier this year, Senate Appropriations Committees approved legislation to increase funding for the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation and other science agencies. The Senate’s recommendation of $30.4 billion for NIH would fully restore the funding that was cut in 2013 due to sequestration. NSF’s budget would grow by 7 percent under the House proposal. (The House did not report a bill to fund NIH.) These increases will not happen if Congress is unable to agree on a final FY 2015 budget package in the next few weeks. In that case a CR would likely keep spending levels at FY 14 levels, and leave it to the new 114th Congress to settle the larger questions.

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November 3, 2014

Continuing resolution versus omnibus funding
How would the two funding approaches differ?

In the days before the 2014 midterm congressional elections, Capitol Hill-watchers are still wondering how the lame duck session of Congress, scheduled to begin on Nov. 12, will play out. Will Congress “punt” and just vote to continue the current continuing resolution (CR) at 2014 levels — or work harder to enact as an omnibus bill at least some of the fiscal year (FY) 2015 bills the House and Senate Appropriations Committees prepared during the year?

Most observers would bet that Congress will do as little as possible, letting the results of the election sink in. The odds are good that the Senate will swing to the Republicans, as you have no doubt read. If the Republicans are able to take over leadership of Senate committees in January, they won't want to let the Democratic leadership call the shots in an appropriations conference committee during November and December, according to some.

Still, new House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., has called for an omnibus, and Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., has argued the same. How would an omnibus differ  and would it be better  than a static CR?

The main difference is that agencies slated for spending increases in the bills that would be rolled into an omnibus would miss out on those increases under a CR or at least be delayed in receiving them. Two good examples are the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF). A CR introduces uncertainty, since the agencies do not know what the final budget for the fiscal year will be, and any funding increase is only available when final funding is enacted. Under a CR, NIH in particular might be forced to push back its grant cycle, compressing the time available for researchers to apply.

The Congressional Quarterly (CQ) suggests other examples. Under a CR, the Department of Health and Human Services could struggle to find resources to house the thousands of Central American children claiming asylum in the United States. Under a simple CR, HHS would continue operating off a spending plan that was initially developed in mid-2012, before much of the border crisis had developed. The U.S. Secret Service, roundly criticized for the September White House break-in and other security breaches, must hire and train new staff in FY 2015 as it ramps up operations for the 2016 presidential campaign. It might not receive that extra money under another stopgap.

The question of whether additional funding for the Ebola outbreak should be considered emergency funding, therefore not subject to budget caps, is another issue that will come to the fore in the lame duck session. The Senate Appropriations Committee will hold a hearing on the U.S. government response to the Ebola outbreak on Thursday, Nov. 6, 2 p.m. (EST). The hearing will be simulcast live.

Note: Do not forget to vote on Nov. 4. 

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September 26, 2014

Federal science funding set through Dec. 11, 2014
After election Congress will tackle longer term funding questions.

On Sept. 17, the House and Senate approved a Continuing Resolution (CR, H.J. Res 124 ) extending funding for all government agencies and programs at their fiscal year (FY) 2014 enacted levels through Dec. 11, 2014. The president signed the CR on Sept. 19.

Congress will be out of session until after the November elections. After spending the next several weeks in their home districts, members of Congress will return to Washington on Nov. 12 for a “lame duck” session that is expected to run through mid-to-late December. Although the agenda has yet to be announced and will depend almost entirely on the outcome of the mid-term elections, congressional leaders have begun to identify issues that might be addressed later this fall, including how to fund the government after the CR expires.

Of course a CR was necessary because of Congress's failure to pass the annual funding bills despite the existence of a bipartisan agreement on the overall spending level for FY 2015. Disagreements regarding the number and nature of proposed amendments stalled further progress on the individual bills this summer. The American Psychological Association (APA) and other advocacy organizations have expressed frustration, on behalf of their members, that the appropriations process has broken down so much that not a single funding bill was passed by both houses of Congress before the end of the fiscal year. The Coalition for Health Funding, to which APA belongs, sent a letter to the House and Senate urging Congress to pass an omnibus spending package that includes the Labor, Health and Human Services appropriations bill before the end of the calendar year.

We at the Federal Budget Blog encourage readers to take advantage of the accessibility of members of Congress during the next month or so, and make sure they know that research funding is an important issue. That message can't be repeated often enough. We will be back in touch after the election, or earlier if funding developments should warrant.

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September 17, 2014

Congressional leaders assemble a 2015 funding bill to last through mid-December
House Appropriations Committee Dems introduce a 2015 Labor HHS bill.

On Sept. 9, the House Appropriations Committee introduced H.J.Res. 124, a continuing resolution (CR) that extends current funding for discretionary federal government programs through Dec. 11. The House will vote on the CR during the week of Sept. 15, and the Senate will consider it afterwards. The legislation must pass if Congress is to avoid a shutdown of the federal government on Oct. 1, and fortunately a shutdown appears not to be in the cards this year. The House is scheduled to adjourn around Sept. 19 until after the November midterm election. The Senate is expected to adjourn by Sept. 23.

The CR provides funding at the current annual rate of $1.012 trillion. Virtually all existing policy and funding provisions included in currently enacted fiscal year 2014 appropriations legislation will carry forward. The bill does not include new controversial riders or large changes in existing federal policy. However the bill does include some new provisions responding to current events. For example, the CR provides $58 million for research and development on Ebola therapies through the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund (PHSSEF) and $413 million in funding for global health programs at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of which $30 million is for ongoing efforts to address the Ebola outbreak in Africa. These budget additions, also known as anomalies, are offset by a 0.0554 percent across-the-board cut in funding.

Although the schedule for the “lame duck” (post-election) session has not yet been announced, it could be relatively busy given the amount of unfinished business Congress must address before the end of the year. If the CR expires in December, appropriators must complete work on an FY 2015 spending package since they were not able pass the individual spending bills. Funding increases reported this summer for NIH (1.8 percent above the FY 2014 level in the Senate Appropriations Committee bill) and NSF (3.3 percent over the FY 2014 level in the House-passed bill) will not be enacted if Congress does not push through the bills either separately or in an omnibus.

Democrats on the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor-HHS-Education released a bill (PDF, 136KB) this week that tracks closely with the bill reported by the Senate Labor-HHS Subcommittee. The bill provides that funds for most education, health and labor programs are returned to at least presequester funding levels and it does so within the ceiling of $155.7 billion set by the House Republican majority ($1.1 billion below current levels).

The bill includes $30.6 billion for NIH, $778 million more than the current level. The bill provides $7.1 billion for CDC, $244 million more than the current level, including increases for initiatives to address antibiotic resistance, global health security, prescription drug overdoses, cancer prevention, food safety and gun violence.

The subcommittee Democrats' bill is meant to call attention to the fact that there is no official House Labor-HHS-Education bill. The Labor-HHS Subcommittee is the only House appropriations subcommittee that has not produced a bill, most likely because the chair doesn't have enough votes among the majority to move a bill to the next step in the process. The specific reasons have not been made public, but some in the subcommittee majority would likely find any potential bill too expensive.

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July 11, 2014

House keeps shoulder to wheel on appropriations bills — Senate stalls
Continuing resolution to maintain funding is likely at end of summer.

This week Congress returned to Washington after the Independence Day recess to face a lot of unfinished business. The fiscal year 2015 appropriations bills, a request for emergency funding to respond to the surge of women and children immigrants crossing the border in Texas and Arizona, and a shortfall in the highway construction budget are among the issues on the agenda that lawmakers hope to check off before Congress leaves town again in August.

The House has made progress within the appropriations process, passing all but the Labor-Health and Human Services (HHS) bill (which funds the National Institutes of Health) and the Department of Interior bill through the full Appropriations Committee. The Labor-HHS bill is frequently one of the most controversial, and congressional staff reminded us this week that it's been five years since there was a House Appropriations Committee markup of that bill. The consequences of that failure are that there are fewer opportunities for public input or for the minority Democrats on the subcommittee to protest funding levels or policy changes inserted by the majority. House Appropriations Chair Harold Rogers, R-Ky., has said that the Labor-HHS bill will be considered by the end of July, but did not specify a date. Five of the 12 spending measures have been approved by the full House over the spring and summer, and H.R. 4923, the Energy and Water bill, is currently being debated by the full House.

The appropriations process in the Senate has been stalled because of Democratic-Republican differences over the number and types of amendments that will be allowed during floor debate. Full Senate Appropriations Committee consideration of two bills, the Energy and Water and the Labor-HHS bills, had been tentatively scheduled for this week, but pulled by Chair Barbara Mikulski, D-Md. The parties remain divided on how to proceed with floor debate of the “minibus” legislation that contains the Commerce, Justice, Science, Agriculture and Transportation-Housing bills.

This is all to say that it seems unlikely that congressional appropriators will manage to pass all 12 bills before the 2014 fiscal year ends on Sept. 30. Lawmakers are expected to pass a short term continuing resolution, or CR, after Labor Day to keep federal agencies operating beyond Oct. 1. The length of the CR has not been determined yet but many expect that it will fund the government through at least late November. Appropriators are also trying to work out how to respond to President Obama's request for $3.7 billion in emergency supplemental funding to offset costs of caring for, evaluating and resettling or deporting the 52,000 unaccompanied minors who have reached the U.S. southern border so far this year. Topics of disagreement include: Should the supplemental funding be offset by spending cuts elsewhere? And should Congress demand reforms before providing additional funds?

So what, you may ask, does all this have to do with science funding? Because of the budget caps adopted in the Budget Control Act, to which Congress has tied spending through the year 2020, all congressional money debates are essentially science funding debates. If Congress agrees that the emergency funds for unaccompanied minors are not subject to budget caps, that leaves more room for science funding. $1.8 billion of the $3.7 billion request would to go to the Department of HHS. If Congress were to decide it must come out of the allocation for the Labor-HHS bill, that would almost certainly impact funding for NIH and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. So stick with us here at the Federal Budget Blog, and we'll keep you informed about developments that may affect science funding.

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June 25, 2014

Funding bills for 2015 still moving — and stopping
History shows separate passage of appropriations bills is less likely in election years.

The House and Senate are encountering familiar roadblocks in attempting to pass the twelve bills that together fund the discretionary portion of the federal government (that’s everything except entitlements, e.g., social security and medicare, and interest on the debt). A “minibus” bill, H.R. 4660, that included three separate appropriations bills (Commerce-Justice-Science; Agriculture-Rural Development-Food & Drug Administration; and Transportation-Housing & Urban Development), was debated on the Senate floor but pulled on June 12 before votes were called. The reason given was that the Senate Democratic leadership was unable to reach agreement with Republicans over the number and nature of amendments. The three bills in the minibus are normally considered three of the easier bills to pass. 

APA closely follows the Commerce-Justice-Science bill as it funds the National Science Foundation and is sometimes the focus of negative amendments. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., offered an amendment last year to deny federal funding for NSF’s political science research portfolio. Coburn has filed a similar amendment this year. Since the Senate has suspended action on the bill, the fate of that amendment is unclear.

Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., is said to be considering other combinations of bills to bring to the Senate floor. The Military Construction-Veterans Administration bill would likely attract bipartisan cooperation on procedure and nature of amendments. Any floor action, though, would likely wait until after a House-Senate conference committee completes work on emergency VA health care legislation (H.R. 3230), and negotiations on that may extend through the summer months. 

According to the Concord Coalition, in the first year of a two-year congressional session, Congress averages twice as many appropriations bills passed on time as in the second year of the session. The second year of the session is the election year, and the jockeying for electoral advantage shows itself in the number and types of amendments offered on spending bills.  

As of June 25, the House had passed six of the 12 bills — those funding the Departments of Defense, Commerce, Homeland Security, Transportation, and the Military Construction and Financial Services bills. None have yet passed in the Senate. 

Stay tuned to the Budget Blog for any updates on the appropriations bills!

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May 13, 2014

Spending legislation for fiscal year 2015 is moving
Allocation to appropriations subcommittee may signal trouble for NIH. 

The House of Representatives passed the first FY 2015 spending bill last week, the Military Construction/Veterans Affairs (VA) bill (HR 4486). The bill provides  $588.9 million (an increase of $3 million or 0.6 percent) for the VA Medical and Prosthetic Research Program, the same as the President’s request. That’s one bill down, 11 to go — and of course the Senate needs to pass the bills as well.

In addition, the House Appropriations Committee approved the Commerce, Justice, and Science (CJS) spending bill, allocating $7.41 billion (3.3 percent above the FY 2014 level) for the National Science Foundation (NSF). The bill provides $5.98 billion for the Research and Related Activities account. NSF’s increase was notable given that funding for the bill overall was 1 percent less than was allocated in FY 2014.

Another House Appropriations Committee vote has set the FY 2015 allocations (technically, the 302(b) allocations) for each of the 12 appropriations subcommittees — that is, the committee approved the division of available funds among the subcommittees —  and the results do not signal a good year for the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The bill conforms to the spending ceiling for FY 2015 that was agreed to in the Bipartisan Budget Act — $1.014 trillion. The committee’s practice, to which it adhered this week as well, has been to provide more generous allocations to the appropriations bills that are least controversial, so it can move those bills more quickly. The allocation for the Labor-HHS-Education bill, which often attracts partisan slings and arrows, is about $1 billion, or 0.7 percent, below the FY 2014 allocation. With those numbers, the Labor-HHS-Education subcommittee will be hard-pressed to provide any sort of increase for the National Institutes of Health without deep cuts to other programs in the bill. U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee, pointed out that the subcommittee has additional funding pressures, including increased student loan servicing costs that the FY 2015 bill must cover, so the job of the subcommittee to craft a bill that can receive enough votes to pass is even more unenviable than it first appears.

So — what happens when the subcommittee can’t write a bill that over 50 percent of its members can support?  In that case, the bill would be rolled into a continuing resolution, and the House leadership would have to decide whether to break the budget agreement or find additional revenues to cover the costs. With the 2011 agreement that gave us sequestration, the Budget Control Act, Congress also imposed on itself budget caps — spending ceilings — that shrink each year. Rep. DeLauro pointed out last week that the current FY 2014 allocation for the Labor-HHS bill is already 17.1 percent less than the 2010 allocation. At some point, your blogger expects that Congress will find itself unable to manage 2015 priorities with Y2K-era funding. It isn’t only domestic spending that is raising concern: pressures on the defense budget have been widely reported too. The Senate 302(b) allocations are expected to be made public before the end of May, and while both chambers have the same overall budget ceiling, the Senate will allocate funds among the 12 subcommittees differently than the House. Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., announced that her panel will meet on May 22 to consider the military construction/VA bill, followed by the agriculture spending measure. These will be the first bills to be voted on by the Senate appropriators.

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March 5, 2014

Research funding in president’s budget — underwhelming
For most research agencies, slight funding increases don't exceed inflation.

President Obama released his $3.9 trillion fiscal year 2015 budget proposal on March 4. The Obama budget would build on the Bipartisan Budget Agreement (BBA) reached late last year between House and Senate Budget Committee chairs Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. Under the deal, which largely replaces for two years the deep domestic and defense cuts known as sequestration, agency spending levels are set through September 2015. The new normal — absent a congressional agreement for new revenues, which seems unlikely in an election year — is flat. Flat funding is an improvement over cuts, but underwhelming nonetheless. 

  • The president's request includes $7.255 billion for the National Science Foundation, 1 percent above FY 2014.
  • NIH would receive $30.4 trillion, a $211 million increase that amounts to 0.7 percent.
  • VA Medical and Prosthetic Research would receive $589 million, a 0.5 percent increase over FY 14.
  • Department of Defense basic and applied research would be cut 5.5 percent below FY 14 levels.
  • The president's budget cuts support for CDC by 3.5 percent, funding the agency at $6.606 billion, about $243 million below the FY 2014 level.
  • One bright spot: the Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute, PCORI, would receive a 13.8 percent increase over FY 2014.

In his budget, President Obama acknowledges that the BBA deal provides insufficient spending for needed national investments. In response he proposes $56 billion in additional funding to agencies, offset by $28 billion in alternative spending cuts and tax hikes, in a package called the Opportunity Growth and Security Initiative (OSGI).

The OSGI, which includes $5 billion for research, would give NIH an extra $970 million, with which the agency would fund 650 additional research grants and put $50 million more into development of a universal influenza vaccine. Alzheimer's disease research and the BRAIN Initiative would also receive more funding. OSGI would boost NSF by $552 million in order to fund 1,000 additional grants. While the Democratic caucuses in the House and Senate would support the OSGI, Republican caucuses prefer to hold the line on government spending, at least any government spending backed by revenue increases, so the OSGI is unlikely to be enacted.

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February 27, 2014

What will the president's budget contain for research?
Defense advocates gear up to battle anticipated spending reductions.

The administration will release most — but not all — of its fiscal year 2015 budget on Tuesday, March 4. The release will include the overview of the president's budget and appendices. Many of the cabinet level officers, e.g., the secretary of Health and Human Services, will hold news conferences and share the "Budget in Brief," which will include top line budgets for agencies and will summarize major changes. Research agency budgets will likely look meager, but there is apparently a point to be made.

According to White House officials, the budget will be written to conform to the discretionary levels in the 2013 Bipartisan Budget Agreement (BBA), but will keep aside the extra $56 billion for defense and nondefense programs that the budget agreement provided. This funding will be segregated as a supplemental bolus, and will not be included within program lines. Instead, the budget will present examples of initiatives the president might like to spend this money on within research, education, infrastructure, training and other priorities.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel got out in front of the budget release by announcing this week a lean FY 2015 Pentagon budget that will shrink defense spending by $75 billion over two years. The budget would reduce the Army to a size not seen since before World War II,reducing the number of active duty soldiers from the current size of 520,000 to as low as 440,000. As you may have guessed, the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA), and sequestration, are the source of the reduction. Pro-defense members of Congress are concerned and looking for additional funds for the Pentagon. The BCA established the principle of parity between defense and nondefense cuts, and the recent BBA held to that principle. Appropriations allocations — that is, the amount each subcommittee has to spend — are not yet decided for FY 2015. Will Congress be able to adhere to the parity principle? Keep an eye on the Federal Budget Blog for more details.

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February 18, 2014

Debt limit raised with little outward drama
President's 2015 budget to be released in stages.

Congress raised the debt ceiling this month without a costly partisan battle. Despite back room discussions in both the House and Senate Republican caucuses, both chambers cleared a "clean" debt ceiling extension that will not require additional congressional action until March of 2015. Although there had been support in the House for coupling the increase to a policy rider that would repeal a reduction in the cost-of-living pension increases for younger military veterans, the House leadership reported that that plan did not have the votes to pass. The House adopted the clean debt limit, 221-201, on Feb. 11. Early calls for a 60-vote threshold and threats of a filibuster by U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, did not materialize. The Senate passed the House bill 55-43 on Feb. 12, and the president signed the bill later that week.

The U.S. Office of Management and Budget has confirmed that the president's 2015 budget will be released in two parts. The main budget volume, key proposals, summary tables, agency-level information and the detailed appendix will be included in the first release on March 4. Historical tables and analytical perspectives will follow the next week.

NIH-funded scientists should note that on Feb. 10 NIH posted guidance on the implementation of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2014 (P.L. 113-76). According to the notice, "Non-competing continuation grants (research and non-research) including those that remain to be issued in FY 2014 likely will be made within the range between the commitment level indicated on the Notice of Award and 3 percent below that level. Out-year commitments for continuation awards in FY 2015 and beyond will remain unchanged. The number of competing awards will likely exceed the number of competing awards in FY 2013."

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February 4, 2014

With FY 2014 wrapped up, Congress looks ahead to 2015
Only one "deadline of doom" left: debt ceiling.

Welcome to February! We promised you additional details about research funding in the fiscal year 2014 legislation that Congress adopted and the president signed last month. The Consortium of Social Science Associations has put together a really useful summary (PDF, 818KB) of how research agencies fared in the omnibus legislation. Check it out!

Congressional appropriators were successful in wrapping all 12 funding bills into one piece of legislation and getting that bill to the floor in just a few weeks. Given that the budget bill that Congress passed in December includes top line funding for FY 2015, will appropriators be able to do it again? Many observers think it's unlikely to work so neatly this year. The time pressure made it impossible for the FY 2014 bills to be considered separately. Without that pressure, the bills will come to the floor separately with more opportunities for advocates and members of Congress to exert influence. The last time all 12 bills moved through the House and Senate independently was in 1994. We can expect some of the less controversial bills to move through both chambers, but odds are, remaining bills will be rolled into a big package and adopted as deadlines loom.

According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), no additional sequester cuts will be necessary this year, following the passage of the omnibus bill. The CBO says that the government even has a little extra room in the disaster relief fund: $6.5 billion. Observers suggest it is unlikely that there will be another sequester until FY 2016, as long as appropriators are able to stick to the spending cap targets for FY 2015. Work on the 2015 bills is beginning now. The president's proposed FY 2015 budget won't be released until early March because the FY 2014 funding was only resolved a couple of weeks ago, but Congress won't wait around for it.

And don't look now, but the debt limit extension that Congress agreed to in the deal that ended the federal government shutdown expires on Feb. 7. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has said that the so-called extraordinary measures the department uses to postpone the need for new borrowing will run out by the end of February. So — Congress will need to act this month to address this issue. We'll keep you updated.

January 15, 2014

Funding for ’14 boosts research budgets
Omnibus spending bill set to clear Congress this week.

We begin 2014 with some positive news. House and Senate appropriators have negotiated an omnibus bill that will fund the federal government through the end of fiscal year 2014 (through Sept. 30, 2014). The bill is an amalgam of all 12 appropriations bills. After the House and Senate in December approved the Bipartisan Budget Act that set spending limits for FY 2014 and 2015, Appropriations Committee Chairs Rep. Harold Rogers, R-Ky., and Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., worked to craft H.R. 3547, a bill that most observers believe will pass both chambers of Congress. The bill comes to the House floor today.

H.R. 3547 (PDF, 2.74MB) dedicates $1.1 trillion to defense and nondefense programs in FY 2014. The overall spending level is comparable to that during the last year of President George W. Bush’s administration in FY 2008.

The bill provides the National Institutes of Health with $29.9 billion, which is $714 million less than the 2013 pre-sequester level but $1.0 billion (3.5 precent) more than the post-sequester level. The Senate Appropriations Committee Democratic summary states: “This amount should allow the NIH to continue all current research programs and begin approximately 385 additional research studies and trials.” As you recall, NIH reported that it funded 640 fewer research grants in fiscal year 2013 than in FY 2012 because of sequestration.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), which was exempt from sequestration, would see a $3 million increase in its research budget. The bill includes $585.7 million in FY 2014 for VA intramural research, compared to an enacted FY 2013 level of $583.7 million.

The legislation provides $7.2 billion for the National Science Foundation, down by $82 million from the FY 2013 enacted level. An analysis from the American Association for the Advancement of Science estimates that this amount reflects a 4.2 percent increase for NSF over the FY 2013 sequester level. The largest part of the funding — $5.8 billion — goes to NSF’s Research and Related Activities account. 

So while research funding has still not recovered from the impact of sequester-related cuts, and while the sequester is still not repealed, the omnibus spending bill gives research funding agencies some much-needed relief and, for a change, improved ability to plan since managers know how much they have to spend between now and the end of the fiscal year. 

The Federal Budget Blog will provide additional information about the bill’s research funding provisions in future updates. 

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