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Continuing Resolution Extended, 21st Century Cures Passed; Long Funding Delay Ahead

The stopgap spending measure includes support for programs included in the recent 21st Century Cures Act, but otherwise puts a lengthy hold on funding decisions.

Last week, Congress passed a continuing resolution (CR) to avoid a government shutdown and extend last year’s government funding levels until April 28, 2017. The CR (H.R. 2028) passed by vote margins of 326-96 in the House and 63-36 in the Senate, and was signed into law early Saturday morning by President Obama. The CR conforms to the fiscal 2017 cap of $1.07 trillion, as expected. Senate Democrats had held up passage of the CR over a depleted health insurance fund for retired coal miners, but eventually backed down late Friday night, thus averting a shutdown.

The legislation includes $872 million for programs prioritized by the 21st Century Cures Act of 2016, the sweeping biomedical innovation and reform bill that also passed last week. NIH programs covered by that bill include the Administration’s Precision Medicine Initiative, the Cancer Moonshot, the BRAIN Initiative, and regenerative medicine. These programs together received an extra $352 million – with cancer research receiving the lion’s share – while the Food and Drug Administration received another $20 million. In addition, $500 million was included for state response to the ongoing opioid abuse crisis.

The CR contains few other science-specific provisions. These include language to maintain the planned launch schedules for NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle programs, and for NOAA’s Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS). Other language also keeps Census Bureau activities around the 2020 census on schedule. And additional funding was provided for repairs to NASA facilities damaged by Hurricane Matthew, and a raft of water infrastructure and health funding.

While the CR ensures government agencies can stay in operation, it is not an ideal scenario. A CR typically keeps agencies from starting any new programs, and agencies also tend to spend more conservatively even on previously-funded operations and activities. It is also, however, a routine scenario at this point: the current year represents the 20th year in a row in which Congress has had to pass at least one CR.

When the CR expires at the end of April next year – more than halfway through the fiscal year – Congress will need to work with the incoming Trump Administration to either finalize FY 2017 appropriations (see current roundup), or enact another stopgap measure to avoid a shutdown once again. Interestingly, the current situation is a mirror of what happened eight years ago, in 2008, when the Democrat-controlled Congress punted appropriations into 2009, to be finished under the incoming President Obama.