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This Week in Appropriations: NIH Gets Another Two Billion Dollar Increase; House Rules Change

The Senate’s NIH budget would finally get the agency back to pre-sequestration funding and avoid a billion-dollar Obama cut, while House appropriators began work on the Homeland Security funding bill.

This week, the Senate Appropriations Committee continued to make progress on appropriations, marking up a pro-NIH funding bill with solid bipartisan support. The Senate committee has now advanced a majority of its twelve required appropriations bills, and three of these have been approved by the full Senate chamber. The Senate also voted to formally negotiate with the House over Zika funding, by voting to form a conference committee on the Transportation and Veterans spending package to which the Senate Zika measure was attached. Meanwhile, the House Appropriations Committee, which has also advanced most of its own spending bills, introduced and approved its FY 2017 Homeland Security spending bill at the subcommittee level this week. 

While the Senate appropriators' generosity toward NIH made headlines, news also emerged in the House when Republican leadership moved to change the way amendments get attached to appropriations bills on the House floor. So far, amendment of appropriations bills has typically been open — which has led to multiple disputes over controversial policy riders and the previously-reported failure of the Energy and Water bill two weeks ago. Hoping to avoid another standoff, House leadership has introduced a structured amendment rule, which will require the House Rules Committee to approve any amendments to spending bills before they can come to a floor vote. This essentially gives leadership veto power over potential poison-pill policy riders, and could facilitate eventual completion of appropriations — albeit to the chagrin of Democrats in the minority.

Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations
House Status: Not Yet Introduced | Senate Status (S. 3040): Through Committee 6/9
Funding Table: National Institutes of Health

Yesterday the Senate Appropriations Committee approved on a 29-1 vote the Labor, Health and Human Services (Labor-H) appropriations bill, a $162 billion spending measure and the largest of the nondefense spending bills. NIH would receive a $2 billion increase under the bill, matching the $2 billion boost Congress provided to NIH last year. Last year's boost was the first significant increase for the research agency in over a decade, while this year's Senate boost — if it holds up — would finally get the NIH budget back to pre-sequestration funding levels. The President had proposed a billion-dollar cut to the NIH discretionary budget in his FY 2017 request, though would have offset that cut with a $1.8 billion mandatory spending package. The centerpiece of that package, in turn, was $680 million for the National Cancer Moonshot Initiative; that initiative went unmentioned in the committee bill, and contrary to the request, the funding increase for the National Cancer Institute was not outsized relative to other institutes. Most individual institutes and centers would receive increases of between five and eight percent (see funding table linked above).

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What did make out extremely well in the Senate bill is the National Institute on Aging, which would receive a substantial $469 million or 29.3 percent increase over FY 2016 to reach $2.1 billion, reflecting in particular the Senate's prioritization of Alzheimer’s disease research. The committee report language offers support for NIH’s plans to place additional emphasis on high-risk, high-reward projects using a “DARPA-like” approach to addressing Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Alzheimer's research also received a major boost last year.

Elsewhere at NIH, the Precision Medicine Initiative would receive a $100 million increase to a total $300 million for its second year of funding, while the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative was also given a $100 million boost for a total $250 million in FY 2017. Another $50 million increase would go towards efforts to combat antibiotic resistant bacteria, totaling $463 million in FY 2017, whereas the proposed budget at NIH slated only $413 million for this activity. 

CDC funding would total $7.1 billion, $76 million more than the President’s request. The Senate Committee provided the requested level of $512 million for the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), which is tasked with preparing for and responding to public health emergencies. The associated Project BioShield would receive $510 million in FY 2017, $160 million above the President’s request.

The committee markup managed to avoid problematic amendments as seen in prior years, particularly related to the Affordable Care Act, though funding disputes could await the Senate floor, where the Labor-H bill is now headed. Senate floor action also still awaits on the related 21st Century Cures Act, a multiyear NIH reauthorization bill. Last year the House approved a version that would provide an additional mandatory funding stream to NIH, but discussions have bogged down in the Senate.

Homeland Security Appropriations
House Status: Through Subcommittee 6/9 | Senate Status (S. 3001): Through Committee 5/26

In a brief markup, the House Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee approved its FY 2017 spending bill Thursday morning. The bill generally makes minimal change to the President’s budget request, providing a small funding increase above the request to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate and for R&D funding overall, according to preliminary AAAS estimates. Additional detail will be provided when the bill is taken up by the full Appropriations Committee.

In a twist, the bill provides funding for a new Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, and Explosives (CBRNE) Office within DHS. As explained in the AAAS report on the President’s budget from earlier this spring, DHS wants to consolidate the current Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO) with several other departmental offices to create the new CBRNE Office in an effort to improve operations and reduce fragmentation. Legislation that would provide DHS with the authority to make this bureaucratic change was approved by the House last December (H.R. 3875, the Department of Homeland Security CBRNE Defense Act of 2015), and House appropriators accordingly granted the new office an appropriation this week. But the Senate has not yet given their own approval to the restructuring, and Senate appropriators thus directed their appropriation to the existing DNDO last month, rather than the new office. The differences will have to be resolved down the road.

A date has not yet been set for full committee consideration of the bill.

Zika Funding

On Wednesday, the Senate formally agreed to conference on Zika spending with the House. Both chambers approved separate measures to fund Zika virus research and response, though neither measure would rise to the $1.9 billion requested by the Administration in February. The bipartisan Senate measure, added as an amendment to the Veterans Affairs/Transportation package that passed the floor last month, would provide $1.1 billion in emergency funding, while the House legislation would provide $622.1 million through the end of the current fiscal year, and includes offsets to cover the costs. President Obama has criticized both spending bills for being too small.

Quote of the Week

“These agencies sometimes can get by with sort of hiding in the weeds, being swallowed up by this huge Department of Homeland Security, thinking that we won’t notice that they’ve not fulfilled their mission. Well we’re noticing.” – Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY), Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, during the DHS markup Thursday.

Cover Image Credit: National Eye Institute, NIH