The government shutdown eventually prompted a deal to pass a continuing resolution that funds the U.S. government at fiscal 2013 levels until Jan. 15, 2014. The deal also instated a budget conference committee to help negotiate a funding level for the government for the remainder of FY14. The first meeting of the committee consisted of short testimony from committee members. However, there were some promising moments where members of both political parties made some encouraging comments that sequestration should be replaced or eliminated.
The second budget conference committee meeting took place yesterday and generated a less than rosy outlook based on the briefing by the Director of the Congressional Budget Office, Doug Elmendorf. Overall, his testimony painted a grim picture, relaying numbers that showed the federal debt increasing at a rate that would be impossible to sustain. He also reiterated that in order to bolster the economy, some resolution to this fiscal situation is necessary to reduce the uncertainty government programs, such as the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation, face in the current budget environment. Elmendorf said, “Big steps are better than small steps. Small steps are better than no steps at all.”
Despite the conference committee meetings, little progress has been made in coming to an agreement. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., said, “We hope that today’s meeting will keep the ball rolling.” However, as Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., pointed out, budget numbers from hers and Ryan’s committee are drastically different, thus compromise is necessary to come to a long-term bipartisan agreement. Members of the committee still disagree on whether or not to continue sequestration and, if sequestration is reversed, how it would be replaced. Reversing sequestration would likely help the economy as it would recreate the jobs that were lost thereby generating more revenue. In the science community, this would mean more grant applications funded, and as a result more labs supported with money for trainees and supplies. Thus far, approximately 640 grants were not administered by NIH due to sequestration. While the budget conference committee has until Dec. 13 to propose a budget, Congress must decide on a deal by Jan. 15 to avoid another government shutdown.
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