The U.S. House passed a continuing resolution last week to continue funding the government at the current level of $986 billion, which maintains sequestration, through Dec. 15 and to eliminate funding for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. The CR has moved to the Senate, where despite a lot of talk about defunding the health care law and preventing a government shutdown, not much has actually happened. Until today, that is.
The CR passed one of the final procedural hurdles in the Senate as the body voted to end debate on the bill. The Senate will now move to make significant changes to the CR, including changing the expiration date of the CR from Dec. 15 to Nov. 15 and stripping the bill of the language that would defund the health care law. Once this bill is approved in the Senate, the House will need to vote to approve or reject the Senate’s version of the CR.
This is where things could get messy. The House will have some options: (1) Vote on the Senate version of the CR that would fund the health care law; (2) Rewrite portions of the Senate bill to reinstate changes to so-called Obamacare; or (3) do nothing and allow the government to shut down. However, there are problems with all three options. First, many House Republicans have stated that they will not vote for a bill that provides funding for the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. If the Senate CR is to pass the House, it will need some Republicans to support funding for the health care law and some Democrats supporting a spending level many see as too low. Second, if the House rewrites the Senate CR and passes a new version, the bill would be returned to the Senate for a new vote. Given the time each house takes to vote on pieces of legislation, sending the bill back to the Senate would almost guarantee that no legislation will be in place come Oct. 1 and the government will shutdown.
For scientists, a government shutdown could have significant deleterious consequences. Grant applications will not be reviewed and grant payments may not be made. While a shutdown will immediately affect government scientists, the longer a shutdown goes on, the more scientists in the extramural community will feel the effects of it.
A VIEW FROM THE INSIDE: Sources inside the National Institutes of Health described the situation on campus as very stressful. Labs are preparing for a government shutdown if the CR does not pass. The shutdown would mean that non-essential employees, which include most lab personnel, cannot come onto the NIH campus and would not receive any pay. Even if the CR passes, there are still consequences. To keep the lab operating smoothly, many labs purchased supplies ahead of time to cover the next several months. However, as most scientists know, there are many reagents that one cannot predict they will need, halting experiments if they cannot be ordered immediately. In addition, facility upkeep was contracted out at the beginning of the fiscal year to cover animal care for this type of emergency situation. Many NIH employees are waiting with bated breath while Congress battles over the CR. Hopefully, your colleagues at the NIH will continue their scientific progress next week.
UPDATE: The Senate approved a stripped down version of the continuing resolution that removed language defunding the Affordable Care Act and set the expiration of the CR to Nov. 15. The bill passed the Senate on a party line vote.