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Congress Approves Short-Term Continuing Resolution (CR), Zika and Veterans Funding

The stopgap spending measure avoids a government shutdown and delays FY 2017 spending decisions until after the November election.

With only a few days remaining before a potential shutdown, Congress passed on Wednesday a short-term continuing resolution (CR) that extends current spending levels through December 9, 2016. The measure (H.R. 5325) also provides $1.1 billion for Zika response efforts and includes full-year appropriations for the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs spending bill. The final deal passed by vote margins of 72-26 in the Senate and 342-85 in the House, and was signed into law by the President yesterday.

Senate Republicans and Democrats had quarreled in recent days over the CR, namely due to its absence of emergency aid for the water contamination crisis in Flint, Michigan, among other things; an agreement was struck to authorize additional resources for Flint in a separate water development bill, paving the way for passage of the CR.

Additionally, Congress ended the long-running stalemate over Zika funding. As part of the CR, a total of $1.1 billion would go towards Zika response and prevention efforts, including $397 million for NIH and BARDA to conduct research and develop vaccines for the virus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and several other agencies would receive additional Zika-related support (see funding breakdown). The Administration expressed appreciation that Congress finally acted on Zika, but also signaled disappointment that the $1.1 billion amount is partially offset by $400 million in rescissions from a variety of other programs and agencies; the President originally requested $1.9 billion in emergency funding without offsets in the February request, and still believes such funding should not be offset.

As noted previously, the CR contains a full-year appropriation for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) through a Military Construction-VA spending bill attached to the stopgap measure. VA’s medical and prosthetic research account would receive $675 million or a 7.1 percent increase over last year’s levels, which is slightly more than both the House and the Administration’s request (see funding table). The Military Construction-VA bill marks the first time since 2009 that a regular appropriations bill has been signed into law before the end of the fiscal year.

The ten-week CR prevents agencies from starting any new programs, but will allow previously-funded operations and activities to continue into December. Congress will return after the November election to finalize FY 2017 appropriations, perhaps in the form of an omnibus, a series of “minibuses,” or even some individual spending bills.

For an in-depth look at current R&D appropriations, see the AAAS summary published two weeks ago. 

Quote of the Week

“It’s unfortunate that political dysfunction has brought us to the point where we celebrate Congress doing the barest minimum of its obligations. As I’ve long-maintained, this is not a responsible way to conduct our nation’s business.” – Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) wrote in a press release