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This Week in Appropriations: NIH Boost in House; Defense and Zika Funding Stalemate

A bill granting NIH a sizeable increase was approved by House appropriators, while defense and Zika funding measures were blocked in the Senate.

Yesterday, the House Appropriations Subcommittee approved its Labor, Health, and Human Services (Labor-HHS) appropriations bill, which grants NIH a considerable increase above the President’s request, though less than the Senate version. Meanwhile, the Senate’s annual defense spending bill was blocked from floor consideration over a variety of Democratic objections. The stalemate over Zika funding also persists ahead of a seven-week recess; Congress will depart next Friday for their summer break. Amid a collapsing appropriations process, some Republicans have begun to push for a six-month continuing resolution that would freeze current spending in place until March 2017. Some kind of continuing resolution, however long, will almost certainly be required to avoid a government shutdown come September 30, followed by an omnibus thereafter.

FY 2017 Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations
House Status: Through Subcommittee 7/7 | Senate Status (S. 3040): Through Committee 6/9
Funding Table: National Institutes of Health

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On Thursday NIH received a $1.3 billion or 3.9 percent funding increase as the relevant House appropriations subcommittee approved the FY 2017 Labor, HHS, and Education appropriations bill. While not quite the $2 billion increase granted by their Senate counterparts, the House figure nevertheless continues the trend of recent support from appropriators in both chambers, and vastly enhances the likelihood of another funding increase for NIH following last year’s boost (see graph at right). The bill also far exceeds the President’s discretionary budget request for NIH by $2.3 billion (see chart linked above).

Most individual institutes would receive increases of between two and four percent, but the big winner in the House bill is again the National Institute on Aging (NIA). As was the case last year, NIA has been prioritized by House and Senate appropriators for its role in Alzheimer’s research. This year House appropriators included a $350 million increase for Alzheimer’s research, a nearly 40 percent increase above FY 2016. This focus on Alzheimer’s research has meant FY 2017 funding for the White House’s Cancer Moonshot – for which the Administration had requested $680 million in new mandatory funding – has not yet been forthcoming in either chamber. On the other hand, House appropriators have granted the requested increases for the BRAIN Initiative and the Precision Medicine initiative. House appropriators also provided a 3.9 percent boost to the Institutional Development Awards (IDeA) program, which seeks to improve the research competitiveness of states that traditionally receive less in NIH funding awards.

Beyond NIH, the bill also provided a $605 million increase for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), including $390 million in Zika funding. Conflict emerged during the Thursday markup when Democrats attempted, unsuccessfully, to amend the bill to allow use of CDC funds for gun violence research

The bill’s next stop is the full committee on July 13, only two days before Congress takes its summer recess starting July 15.

FY 2017 Defense Appropriations
House Status (H.R. 5293): Through House 6/16 | Senate Status (S. 3000): Through Committee 5/26
Funding Tables: DOD R&D | R&D by Military Dept. | Basic Research | Science & Tech

Late Thursday the appropriations process was delivered another blow as Senate Democrats blocked the chamber from proceeding on the FY 2017 Defense Appropriations Bill. Democrats accused Republicans of failing to adhere to last year’s budget deal, while also objecting to several policy riders across multiple bills. As previously reported, the Defense bill, which received strong bipartisan support coming out of committee, would trim Defense Department basic research spending by 1.9 percent but increase the department’s overall science and technology funding by 2.5 percent – both more generous than either the President’s budget request or the House version of the bill.

Zika Funding

Senate Republicans intend to bring up a Zika funding measure for a second vote after it failed to advance last week, though Democrats have repeated their threats to block it. The measure, which passed the House as part of the Military Construction-VA spending bill (H.R. 2577), would provide $1.1 billion to combat the Zika virus, of which $750 million is offset through rescissions to the President’s healthcare law and other programs. The White House threatened to veto the bill for underfunding the Administration’s $1.9 billion request for Zika response efforts, and also in response to a House decision to remove a Confederate flag provision found in earlier versions of the legislation, among other objections.

Quote of the Week

"We all know what they're trying to do here: we have a defense bill, it's an appropriation bill, once that's done, the appropriations process will be wiped out and we'll be at the mercy of Republicans in some form or fashion." – Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV), speaking on the Senate floor Thursday evening

Cover Image Credit: National Eye Institute, NIH