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Legislative Update: November 15, 2012

 

With the election behind us, the President and a lame-duck Congress must now address the “fiscal cliff” – the outcome of which will impact future funding levels for NIH and other federal science agencies.  

The lame-duck Congress returned on November 13. The Lame Duck’s efforts will hopefully avoid the nearly $500 billion in automatic tax hikes and mandatory spending cuts through sequestration that will take effect January 2.

As the January deadline looms closer, the likelihood of sequestration being enacted grows. Many members of the biomedical research community are assuming that Congress won’t let it happen; that Congress will make a deal just before midnight of the last day as they often have in past budget deliberations. But it is important to remember that sequestration is law, and it would require legislation to change or repeal it. If sequestration is enacted, the NIH budget would be reduced by over $2 billion and would result in NIH funding 2,300 fewer research grants. ASPET members can and should remain cautiously optimistic that some alternative, and more balanced, solution to deficit and debt reduction will be agreed upon. For that reason, it is critical that all ASPET members begin/continue to communicate to Members of Congress the devastating consequences to biomedical research should sequestration be enacted.    

If a “grand bargain” is reached, some comments from Congressional leadership allow room for optimism that additional cuts to non-defense discretionary spending would be unfair. House Appropriations Chair  Harold Rogers (R-KY) recently remarked that lawmakers have cut discretionary spending three years in a row,  and “I think we have just about reached the bottom of the barrel on cutting domestic discretionary spending…because of entitlement spending, we will still be in the red, every year, so the problem is not in discretionary spending. We have done our job. The problem is the auto-spending of cruise control entitlements.”

Amid all discussion of sequestration and to complicate the situation further, the NIH budget is essentially frozen for the first six months of FY’13 (Oct-March) at the FY’12 level. The funding level for the remainder of the fiscal year must be resolved. There is no guarantee that this final number will remain at the FY’12 level. While there could end up being a nominal increase, the most likely outcome would be further reduction in the budget. Ideally, Congress could finalize FY’13 spending in the Lame Duck. And to further muddy the waters, Congress must necessarily begin looking at FY’14 numbers soon.        

There are direct actions that all ASPET members can undertake to help sustain NIH funding. Contact your Congressional Representatives today. Legislators need to hear from you that the investment in biomedical research should be a national priority. View the Advocacy Page on the ASPET website for more details on the impact of sequestration and for information on how to successfully contact and/or meet with your Congressional delegation.

The campaigns are now over. Real policy making must begin. Congress will, at some point, cobble together some plan that attempts to raise revenue, cut spending, and reform entitlement spending. There is no better time than today to make the case to Members of Congress about why a robust NIH funding is vital to our nation. For additional help on how to do this, contact Jim Bernstein, ASPET’s Director of Government & Public Affairs at 301-634-7062.

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