House and Senate Committees Move Spending Bills, but Huge Gaps Remain

August 2, 2013

by Paula Skedsvold  

House and Senate appropriators have advanced most of the twelve spending bills, but getting floor action on many of them will be difficult. As they leave for a five-week break, the opportunities for either a grand bargain or reasoned compromise before the end of the fiscal year on September 30th are quickly shrinking. 

Before leaving, Senate appropriators marked up two bills that set spending levels for NIH and NSF. The Senate numbers assume that sequestration cuts will be cancelled in FY 2014, although no agreement has been reached to reverse the cuts included in the Budget Control Act. The Senate Appropriations Committee approved $30.947 billion for NIH, a $307 million increase over the FY 2013 level prior to sequestration, or a $2 billion increase over FY 2013 with sequestration cuts and transfers included.  NIH has already faced $1.5 billion in sequestration cuts, and its budget has declined by 22% in constant dollars since 2003. 

The Senate funding level will allow NIH to allocate $40 million for the BRAIN Initiative, and also includes an $84 million increase for NIA, funding for the Diabetes Prevention Program, and $10 million for research on preventing elderly falls. Unless a deal is reached to replace the sequester, however, the Senate numbers will be reduced since the funding levels are above the Budget Control Act caps. Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski has called for the sequester to be cancelled, the caps lifted, and a balanced deal reached to address the deficit. 

House Appropriators were scheduled to take up the Labor-HHS-Education spending bill this week, but postponed its consideration. The House allocated substantially less funding for the bill, around 26% less than the Senate and 18.6% less than funding post-sequestration. Commentators reasoned that taking up the bill would highlight the deep cuts as well as differences with the Senate. 

The appropriations bill funding NSF, on the other hand, was approved by both House and Senate Appropriations Committees. The House bill would fund NSF at $7 billion, $111 million above FY 2013 once current year sequestration cuts are considered. The largest increases are slated for the research accounts line, with an increase of almost $132.5 million above current funding. 

Senate appropriators likewise pushed for an increase in funding for NSF. Under the Senate plan, NSF would receive $7.4 billion, an increase of $186 million over FY 2013 enacted levels, $430 million more than the House bill, and $541 million above current sequestration levels.

Despite the tight fiscal climate and lack of a broader agreement on a budget, one silver lining is that no amendments were added to the bills to eliminate or restrict funding for behavioral and social sciences research or any area of science – at least so far.  Science advocates will be watching closely for any amendments if the bills are considered on the House or Senate floors.  

Given that there are few days left in the fiscal year, especially when the five-week August recess is considered, a ContinuingResolution to fund government programs beyond September 30th may be needed. The $91 billion chasm between House and Senate figures may be difficult to bridge, however, making a government shutdown this year a real possibility. Republicans want to keep the top-line cap of $967 billion mandated by the BCA, while Democrats want to set the cap at the pre-sequestration level of $1.058 trillion.