APA Federal Budget Blog
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July 11, 2014House 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.
June 25, 2014Funding 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!
May 13, 2014Spending 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.
March 5, 2014Research 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. (See APA Federal Budget Blog entries from Dec. 12 and 13, 2013, for more info.) 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.
February 27, 2014What 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.
February 18, 2014Debt 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."
February 4, 2014With 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, 2014Funding 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.