September 26th, 2011, by Abby Benson  

Week in Review, or Hanging in the Balance

Last week started out on a positive note on Capitol Hill, with more Fiscal Year (FY) 2012 appropriations (spending) bills scheduled to move forward, but ended up in another political stalemate that could lead to a government shutdown on Friday.

First, the positive. After last week’s activities, the Senate and House Appropriations Committees have now both officially approved eleven of their twelve Fiscal Year (FY) 2012 spending bills. In the House, the only remaining markup is the Labor-HHS-Education bill, which funds the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and in the Senate, the Interior and Environment spending bill, which funds the U.S. Geological Survey, remains. While the House has moved more of its spending bills out of the Appropriations Committee and onto the floor than the Senate, it’s not clear yet how many (if any) individual bills will actually be passed by both chambers. Given the time constraints Congress is under, with the fiscal year running out on Friday, the more likely scenario is that the individual spending bills will be lumped into one massive “omnibus” bill that funds the entire government.

Now, the uncertainty. Despite the productivity in the appropriations realm, there will not be enough time to complete the entire process before Friday, so both chambers last week turned to consideration of a short-term continuing resolution (CR). This is a bill that would keep the government funded at FY 2011 levels until just before Thanksgiving, allowing time for a long-term bill (or bills) to be completed. Early Friday morning, the House approved a CR by a very slim margin of 219 to 203, after failing to pass the bill once earlier in the week. Later that day, however, the Senate rejected the bill in a vote of 59 to 36. At issue continues to be the inclusion of disaster relief funding in the bill, which everyone seems to agree the country needs (according to Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) could run out of disaster aid money as early as today), but Republicans want to see this spending offset by cuts in other programs. This concept is controversial, as historically supplemental funding for things like wars and disasters have been provided by Congress in addition to regular annual spending, without having to be offset elsewhere.

Making the situation even more complicated is that with the Friday deadline looming to pass a CR, both Chambers were supposed to be on recess this week. After passing their version of a CR on Friday, House members headed back to their home states, while Senate members stayed in Washington and are expected to consider another spending measure early this week. The question remains, even if they pass a measure, could they get the House members to return Washington before Friday to also pass it? Or, will the Senate feel the pressure of a potential government shut down and try to pass the bill the House passed on Friday, despite what they view as it’s shortcomings. I’ll give a full report in next week’s update!

In other news, President Obama submitted his Plan for Economic Growth and Deficit Reduction to the deficit reduction “Super Committee,” which outlines the Administration’s views on how to  reduce the federal deficit. The statement accompanying the release indicates that the plan is focused on a single idea, that “as a Nation, we can live within our means while still making the investments we need to prosper – from a jobs bill that is needed right now to long-term investments in education, innovation, and infrastructure.”

A group of more than 130 university presidents wrote also wrote to the “Super Committee” last week, urging them to not focus their deficit cutting measures solely on non-security discretionary spending. This type of spending represents only an 18% sliver of the federal spending pie, but funds the majority of research and education funding. It is also in many ways the easiest thing to cut politically, since the remaining pieces of the pie (e.g., mandatory entitlements, taxes, and security spending) all have staunch supporters in both Democrats and Republicans.

Also of Note

Agriculture. If you’re interested in learning more about agriculture research, I recommend taking a look at a newly released Department of Agriculture (USDA) synopsis of last year’s activities at the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), the “premier agricultural competitive grants program in the United States.”

Energy. The Department of Energy (DOE) will release it’s long-awaited Quadrennial Technology Review (QTR) in an event at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Washington tomorrow, September 27th. The DOE press release says the QTR “establishes a framework, utilizing six key strategies, in order to prioritize the Department’s research and development across energy technologies.”

Health. The Senate Appropriations Committee approved its FY 2012 Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education spending bill last week. The bill included $30.5 billion for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), $190 million less than FY 2011. Senator Moran (R-KS) attempted to restore the $190 million in NIH funding during the full Committee markup, but this amendment did not pass. The spending bill also included language that would help establish the National Center for Advancing Translational Science (NCATS), a priority of NIH Director Francis Collins.

Immigration. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced a new study to help streamline the international student visa process to help foreign students study in the United States. In announcing the initiative, Secretary of Homeland Security Napolitano stated “Attracting the best and brightest international talent to our colleges and universities is an important part of our nation’s economic, scientific and technological innovation and competitiveness.”

Leadership. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) announced last week that he would be stepping down from his #3 position in the U.S. Senate leadership. Alexander, a former U.S. Education Secretary, University of Tennessee president, and professor at Harvard’s School of Government, is a vocal supporter of research and education and currently serves on the Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee (HELP) and as Ranking Member of the Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee. In his statement, Alexander noted that “stepping down from leadership will liberate me to spend more time working to achieve results on the issues I care the most about….That means stopping runaway regulations and spending. But it also means setting priorities—confronting the timidity that allows runaway health care spending to squeeze out research, scholarships, roads and other government functions that make it cheaper and easier to create jobs. ”

In Print

In an op-ed in The Hill, Rosa De Lauro (D-CT) argues the importance of biomedical research and protecting funding for the NIH. The title of the op-ed, “No such thing as a one-year cut for medical researchers” undermines the point that even a one-year cut in funding for research programs can have a drastic effect on the entire pipeline.

What’s on Deck

With both chambers scheduled to be on recess this week, there are no hearings scheduled.

On Wednesday, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) will hold a Capitol Hill briefing on it’s Science, Technology and Industry Scoreboard 2011 at 12:30 in Rayburn House Office building Room 2325.

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