UPDATE: The U.S. House reconvened this evening and voted on the omnibus spending package. The bill passed by a vote of 219-206. Fiscal 2015 spending for the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation will be as we previously reported.
Earlier today, the U.S. House started the procedure to vote on an omnibus spending package that would fund the government through the rest of fiscal 2015. However, a preliminary vote on the rules that would frame the formal debate on the omnibus bill passed by a slim 214-212 margin. This narrow passage signaled that the actual omnibus bill faced stiff opposition and an unclear chance at passage. Due to this opposition, House leadership called a recess to determine whether moving forward with a vote would be a worthwhile exercise.
The omnibus spending package combines all 12 appropriations bills that distribute the roughly $1.1 trillion needed to run the federal government in the coming fiscal year. Democrats and Republicans are often at odds as to how to best spend the taxpayers dollars often leading to friction in negotiations over appropriations bills. In order to move past these disagreements, policy riders – directives for federal agencies on how to conduct business in the coming fiscal year – are often added that mollify the concerns of the legislators.
In October 2013, legislators disagreed over funding for implementation of the Affordable Care Act. No agreement was reached prior to the end of the fiscal year causing the government to shut down. This time around, some Democrats are opposed to riders that would remove key aspects of the Dodd-Frank bill that introduced restrictions on how Wall Street financial firms conduct business. Some Republicans are opposed to the omnibus bill because it doesn’t do enough to blunt President Obama’s actions on immigration reform. And those on the left and the right are upset about riders that would increase the caps on how much individuals can contribute to political campaigns.
So what now? Congress has until midnight tonight to enact a spending measure or the government will shut down. Most sources are now saying that the omnibus package is no longer a viable option. Rather, House Republicans will opt for a 90-day continuing resolution. This will fund the government at current levels for the next 90 days or until Congress can enact a new funding plan. This is significant because in just over 20 days, the 114th Congress will be sworn in and Republicans will take control of the Senate. It is not clear how they will direct funding for federal agencies.
With regard to science funding agencies, preliminary discussions have begun as to what will happen in the event of a government shutdown. However, in the more likely event of a 90-day CR, the agencies will continue to operate in the same manner as they have since October.
For more on this developing situation, follow the ASBMB Policy Blotter!