Congress Returns to a Full Agenda: Congress faces several key deadlines in September, yet the Senate has only 17 legislative days and the House has only 12 legislative days to work things out. Congress needs to address FY 18 appropriations, increase the debt ceiling, adopt FY 18 budget resolutions and amend the Budget Control Act (BCA). All are consequential. Without appropriations or a Continuing Resolution, there could be a government shutdown. Without debt ceiling relief, the US government could default on its obligations. Without budget resolutions, the Senate will not be able to proceed with tax or health reform without 60 vote majorities. Without an amendment to the BCA, large FY 18 defense increases passed by the House will be substantially reduced by sequestration and non-defense programs are likely to be squeezed as well.
Progress on appropriations is hard to predict because of multiple interlocking issues and the limited number of legislative days. One of those interlocking issues is the debt ceiling. Depending on Federal cash flow, Congress must raise the debt limit sometime this Fall (approximately October 1). The Republican caucuses in both House and Senate are likely to be split, with many of the “more-conservative” Members planning to vote “no” unless passage is tied to large spending cuts allocated to both entitlement and discretionary programs. On the other hand, Democrats and many of the “more-moderate” Republican Members will want a “clean” debt ceiling bill with no restrictions.
In addition to the debt ceiling, another related issue is the budget resolution. Neither House nor Senate has yet passed FY 18 budget resolutions. The House budget committee has reported a bill, but the Senate has not even begun. While Congress often does not complete this process, higher defense spending and tax reform are dependent on passage of budget bills that direct some combination of entitlement and non-defense spending cuts. Further, unless the Senate parliamentarian rules otherwise, reconciliation instructions from the FY 18 budget bill (not carryover from the FY 17 budget bill) will be necessary if the Senate is to take up tax reform or re-visit health reform under rules that only require a majority vote.
Consideration of the appropriations bills, the debt ceiling, and/or the budget resolutions are likely to be further entangled by efforts to adjust or repeal the FY 18 defense and non-defense spending caps that are contained in the Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA). The defense/VA minibus appropriations bill passed by the House before recess contains a cap-busting allotment for DOD. However, the amount by which the House bill exceeds the cap will not be available to spend, but rather it will be rateably reduced until the total is no greater than the cap. To avoid this sequestration, proponents of larger defense spending will need to amend the BCA. They may not have the votes unless they also support an increase in the non-defense cap (theoretically good for FDA).
It will be a rollercoaster ride this September as Congress works through these interlocking issues but the biomedical research community is prepared again with robust advocacy efforts.
Senate Labor-HHS Markups Scheduled: The Senate Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee scheduled a markup of its FY 2018 Labor-HHS spending bill for Wednesday, September 6 at 11am in 124 Dirksen Senate Office Building.
Additionally, the Senate Appropriations Committee scheduled a full committee markup of the FY 2018 Labor-HHS spending bill for Thursday, September 7 at 10:30am in 106 Dirksen Senate Office Building.
FOVA, AAMC Oppose Restrictions on Use of Dogs in VA Medical Research: The executive committee of the Friends of VA Medical Care and Health Research (FOVA) coalition sent an letter on August 25th sent an Aug. 25 letter to House Appropriations Committee Chair Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) and Ranking Member Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) opposing legislation that would prohibit the use of dogs in medical research at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
The FOVA executive committee letter comes in response to an amendment offered by Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.) to the Department of Defense Appropriations Act (H.R. 3219), a minibus that includes the fiscal year (FY) 2018 Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies spending bill, as well as three other appropriations bills, which the House passed July 27 [see Washington Highlights, July 28].
The letter states, “Animal models play an essential role in advancing our understanding of human health and disease,” and continues, “While we understand and appreciate the efforts to reduce use of dogs in animal research, we believe the policy included in the appropriations bill will impede scientific research and unnecessarily delay research advances for our nation’s veterans.”
The FOVA executive committee includes AAMC, Paralyzed Veterans of America, Disabled American Veterans, American Thoracic Society, American Psychological Association, National Association of Veterans’ Research and Education Foundations, and the Federation of American Societies for experimental Biology. Under the FASEB and our other partnerships, ASPET was represented on this matter.
NIH Issues Next Generation Researchers Policy: Today NIH issued a notice announcing the policy for supporting the Next Generation Researchers Initiative (NGRI). Consistent with the directives within the 21st Century Cures Act and an overarching goal of the agency to provide opportunities for earlier research independence, this policy provides an updated strategy for prioritizing NIH funding for Early Stage Investigators (ESIs) and Early Established Investigators (EEIs). In addition to the policy language, Michael Lauer, NIH Deputy Director for Extramural Research, published a blog describing the rationale for the new policy and the website clearinghouse for information related to the NGRI
Earlier this month, Francis Collins appointed a Working Group of the Advisory Committee to the Director to monitor the implementation of this policy. Additional information about this working group, including its charge and roster can be found here.