Omnibus – minibus – continuing resolution – super committee … what does it all mean for the biomedical research community right now? Well, here it is in a nutshell.
EXISTING SITUATION: Currently, the government is operating under a Continuing Resolution (CR), which funds the NIH at the FY2011 level through November 18, 2011, which is $30.7 billion. FY11 ended on September 30, 2011, however Congress did not pass a single appropriation bill, which lead to the need for the CR extending FY11 funding levels through mid-November. This “stop-gap” funding is in place to offer Congress more time to resolve budget issues, and pass a budget for FY2012. Just today, House Appropriations Chair Hal Rogers all but conceded that an additional CR would be necessary to keep the government funded through Christmas 2011, to provide Congress still more time to pass a budget for FY12.
COMPETING OPTIONS: Both the House, and the Senate, have made proposals in terms of funding for NIH for FY12. (IMPORTANT NOTE: Neither of these options have been voted on and approved by their full originating chamber.) Here is a top level summary of the options:
REHBERG OPTION (HOUSE)
As is the case with so many of these issues, the devil is in the details. The House “mark”, which was never voted on by the House Labor-HHS Appropriations Subcommittee, increases the NIH budget, but defunds an overwhelming majority of the provisions of the Affordable Care Act (often referred to as “Obamacare”). Those cuts have a significant impact to our friends in the health community, and puts the research community in a spot where we want to support the NIH increase proposed by the House, but also support our partners who are facing drastic cuts.
The Senate – of course – has a cut to the NIH which is a difficult pill to swallow, and includes language establishing NCATS, an NIH proposal which concerns the basic research community as it may change the focus of NIH from basic, to translational science. We are in between the proverbial rock and a hard place. How have we straddled the line on this issue? The position we have used going forward is to “Support the House funding level for the NIH, but not the bill as written.”
WHAT’S NEXT? At some point, Congress is going to have to pass a budget for FY12, and negotiations must take place between the House and Senate to close the more than $1 billion gap between the two proposed funding levels for NIH. Most everyone involved does not feel that the final NIH appropriation with be at the level proposed by the Chairman Rehberg in the House, so the final appropriation will likely be between the high of the House and the low of the Senate.
The question is how will the FY12 budget be passed? A long-term CR, which would extend the FY11 funding level for the remainder of FY12 is highly unlikely, and the least popular option. What other options exist?
- Normal Appropriations Bill Passage. In this scenario, the House and Senate would pass all 12 appropriations bills one-by-one, determining the funding level for FY12 on a series of 12 separate bills. This is not a reality.
- Omnibus Passage. From the Latin omnibus meaning “for everything,” this would be one bill which includes the appropriations for all agencies. This would bundle up all 12 individual appropriation bills into one vote. This is not the likely outcome.
- Minibus Passage. Congress can bundle up appropriations bills into groupings of bills, essentially the compromise between normal appropriations passage and an omnibus. The Senate is currently exploring this option and may vote on a minibus include appropriations for the departments of Commerce, Justice, Agriculture, Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and science related agencies such as the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
WHAT’S THE SUPER COMMITTEE? Over the summer, during the debt-ceiling crisis we all experienced, the President established a Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (aka the super committee), a bicameral group of 6 Democrats and 6 Republicans. The committee is charged with issuing a recommendation by November 23, 2011 for at least $1.5 trillion in additional deficit reduction steps to be undertaken over a ten‐year period starting in FY2013. The activities of the super committee will not directly impact the FY12 negotiations, except to add pressure to Congress to begin making spending cuts in the future.