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This Week in Appropriations: Things Fall Apart

NIH is embraced, EPA research is cut, Defense and Zika funding are blocked, and Congress heads out for recess as the appropriations process collapses.

This week, the House advanced its NIH funding bill at the committee level, approving large boosts for Alzheimer’s research, but underfunding (for now) the Administration’s request for cancer funding. Also, the full House approved its Interior spending bill amidst partisan debate over EPA funding and its regulatory authority. Meanwhile, the Senate failed to advance both the annual Defense spending bill and a Zika funding measure attached to the Veterans bill for the second time. With lawmakers departing for a seven-week summer recess, the prospect of a continuing resolution to avoid a government shutdown has already been a subject of debate in Congress; some conservative Republicans have argued for a six-month CR that would push final appropriations into March 2017, though others want to wrap appropriations up with an omnibus before the end of the year.

Interior and Environment Appropriations
House Status: (H.R. 5538) Through House 7/14 | Senate Status (S. 3068): Through Committee 6/16
Funding Tables: USGS | EPA

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Yesterday, the full House approved its FY 2017 Interior and Environment appropriations bill on a 231-196 vote. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) would receive a 1.7 percent increase in the House bill, while EPA’s Science and Technology account would drop by 2.0 percent; funding for both agencies falls considerably short of the President’s request but fares slightly better than in the Senate Committee version which passed a month ago (see previous AAAS coverage).

In a marathon vote session, House lawmakers considered over 130 amendments to the Interior bill. Under this year’s structured rule, Republican leadership removed nearly three dozen amendments from consideration, including controversial measures to ban Confederate flags at federal cemeteries and parks; last year a similar measure caused the Interior bill to be pulled from the House floor. Outcomes on select funding-related amendments are as follows:

  • An amendment proposed by Rep. Jason Smith (R-MO) to eliminate funding for EPA’s Air, Climate and Energy Research Program was narrowly defeated on a 208-217 vote.
  • Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) sponsored a successful amendment which would decrease EPA’s Environmental Programs and Management fund by $14 million, while increasing the agency’s Inspector General fund by $10 million to equal the President’s request.
  • An amendment offered by Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-AR) to cut EPA environmental programs by $12 million and increase the U.S. Forest Service’s Forest and Rangeland Research account by $10 million was adopted by voice vote.
  • Rep. Donald Norcross (D-NJ) offered an amendment to add $13 million to EPA’s Hazardous Substance Superfund to match the levels proposed by the Administration, but was turned down.

Democrats also tried, but failed, to pass amendments that would overturn language in the bill that bars funding for carrying out the Administration’s Clean Power Plan, which proposes new regulations on greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, as well as efforts to address methane emissions under the Clean Air Act. The White House opposes the legislation and issued a veto threat, citing funding cuts and a range of policy riders included in the bill.

Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations
House Status: Through Committee 7/14 | Senate Status (S. 3040): Through Committee 6/9
Funding Table: National Institutes of Health

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The Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (Labor-HHS) spending bill became the final of twelve bills to be approved by the House Appropriations Committee this year, following a 31-19 vote along partisan lines Thursday, hours before the summer recess commenced. As reported last week, the bill provides a $1.3 billion or 3.9 percent funding boost above FY 2017 levels – and a full $2.3 billion above the President’s request – for NIH, including a major increase of nearly 40 percent for Alzheimer’s research funding, while meeting the request for interagency initiatives on brain imaging and precision medicine. The committee also stated it expected the increase to support “a success rate of no less than 20 percent with at least 11,175 new Research Project Grants (RPGs),” both above the Administration’s requested estimates. The committee also urged NIH to direct at least 90 percent of its funding for extramural research; that figure has been slightly below 90 percent in recent years.

One area the bill does not fund is the President’s Cancer Moonshot: the National Cancer Institute would receive a 2.4 percent increase in the bill, compared to the 13.0 percent jump in funding requested by the Administration. During the Thursday markup, an amendment to provide an extra $750 million to fully fund the cancer initiative was offered by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), but that amendment failed. Labor-HHS Subcommittee Chair Tom Cole (R-OK) did express support in principle for such funding, but said he wanted to see the full detailed plan for the moonshot – scheduled for December release by NIH – before supplying the requested funding. Cole also objected to the amendment’s funding mechanism, which attempted to get around the current spending caps by classifying other infectious disease spending as emergency spending, which is not subject to the caps. Cole also said he saw the current House figures for NIH as a “floor, not a ceiling” in light of the even higher $2 billion increase for NIH provided in the Senate earlier this year. Amid all this, NIH appears set for a sizable increase in FY 2017, though that increase will have to wait until Congress can reach an omnibus agreement.

As part of a large increase for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the bill creates a new $300 million dollar rapid response fund for infectious disease and other public health threats modeled after FEMA, and another $390 million for Zika-specific response. Another amendment from DeLauro, voted down, would have drastically increased funding for the response fund to $5 billion and again reclassified it as emergency spending. In addition, the bill provides a small increase of 1.6 percent for the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), an HHS office that develops vaccines and diagnostics for public health emergencies, and a 17.6 percent boost for Project BioShield, which produces countermeasures in response to bioterror attacks. Lastly, Democrats were again unsuccessful in their attempts to lift restrictions on gun violence research at CDC.

The spending bill is unlikely to reach the floor given the limited number of legislative days remaining and the likelihood of a continuing resolution before September 30, though it may be wrapped into a final omnibus package, should Congress achieve one.

Senate Appropriations: Defense, Zika, Veterans

Once again, Senate Democrats blocked progress on appropriations in the upper chamber floor Thursday, with no appropriations measure able to reach the 60-vote threshold required to advance (here are the votes for the Defense bill and the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs bill; see also this previous update for funding numbers in the Defense bill). Democrats have issued objections to policy riders afflicting the process (though both parties have attempted these), and are skeptical of Republican willingness to stick to last year’s budget agreement on defense spending.

On the Zika front, Senate Democrats again blocked the $1.1 billion compromise package attached to the Veterans bill over policy riders related to the Confederate flag, Planned Parenthood, and Affordable Care Act funding. The decision came after a last-minute White House plea to approve emergency funding for the virus, without specifying a specific amount (the Administration previously requested $1.9 billion). Meanwhile, the House and Senate Appropriations Chairmen sent President Obama a letter urging the use of existing funds to combat Zika; recently released HHS figures show that only $112 million of the $589 million in repurposed Ebola funds for Zika response efforts have been distributed so far.

Quote of the Week

“They’ve got $500 million lying there of that money. I don’t know what’s going on down there…There’s money in the kitty to fight Zika, and they’ve got the money and they won’t spend it. My question is, why?" – House Appropriations Committee Chair Hal Rogers (R-KY) on the current status of the Administration’s repurposed Zika funding.

Cover Image Credit: U.S. Geological Survey