Congress returned to work last week after its summer recess. In the next month, Congress’ main priority will be to approve funding for the federal government in fiscal 2017. Congress’ inability to pass the 12 separate annual appropriation spending bills has resulted in it needing to approve a temporary spending bill, or continuing resolution, before the Sept. 30 deadline to prevent a government shutdown.
A continuing resolution is a short-term way for Congress to continue funding federal agencies without approving a new budget. In a continuing resolution, federal agencies continue to receive the amount of funding they received in the previous fiscal year. Since Sept. 30 marks the end of FY16, a continuing resolution would ensure federal agencies continue receiving funds at FY16 levels.
This weekend, Senate Republicans and Democrats developed a short-term continuing resolution proposal that would fund the federal government through Dec. 9, delaying further appropriation hearings until “lame-duck” sessions following the elections. The Senate plans to submit this proposal to the House and adjourn immediately, allowing senators to return home to campaign for the upcoming elections. Additionally, this proposal will put the pressure on the House to either accept and pass the proposed short-term continuing resolution, or shut down the government weeks before the election.
Furthermore, despite approval of emergency funding for Zika research continuing to be a major point of contention in Senate, the proposed short-term continuing resolution will include $1.1 billion in emergency aid to combat the virus.
Following the upcoming election, some Republican members of the House, for example Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., have considered a “CRomnibus,” where bills they like (defense-related) would be passed as “minibuses,” or appropriations providing new FY17 budgets, and bills they do not like (non-defense related) would fall under an extended nine-month continuing resolution where they will continue under FY16 budget levels. This plan, however, is unpopular among GOP and Democratic appropriators alike.
Approving a “CRomnibus” would be severely detrimental to the biomedical research enterprise. This past summer, the Senate Appropriations Committee proposed a $2 billion dollar increase to the National Institutes of Health FY17 budget. Approving a short-term continuing resolution would result in Congress voting on the proposed NIH budget increase by the end of this year, potentially resulting in an increased budget for biomedical research in 2017. However, if a “CRomnibus” is approved, that would prevent voting on an NIH budget increase, leaving funding at FY16 levels.
We expect a short-term continuing will be approved in the coming days, extending federal funding of government agencies through Dec. 9. When lawmakers return to work in November, we hope that the Senate will agree on an omnibus package that will fund the federal government through FY17, and lead to budget increases for agencies such as the NIH and National Science Foundation.