June 17th, 2013, by Abby Benson  

Week in Review, or Sensing a Spending Stalemate

Congress is taking advantage of this relatively lengthy “work period” (weeks in session between recess) to tackle some big legislation. The Senate began debate on a massive comprehensive immigration reform bill, marked up the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), and passed the “Farm Bill,” while the House passed its version of the NDAA and moved forward with two more FY 2014 spending bills for Defense and Agriculture.

Although the House-passed FY 2014 spending bill for Defense conforms to the House-approved 302(b) allocations, which in turn conform to the Ryan budget and the overall $967 billion spending level required by sequestration, it does not confirm to proportional cuts between defense and non-defense spending required by the Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011. If the bill were to be finalized in this form, it would then be subject to an across-the-board cut (not unlike sequester) to bring it down to the mandated level. Senate spending bills could face the same fate, as Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) announced that her committee would approve their 302(b) allocations this week using the $1.058 trillion top-line number that assumes sequestration has been replaced. In this case, both defense and non-defense spending bills could be subject to across-the-board cuts to bring them in line with the BCA. In response to Mikulski’s appropriations strategy, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has made it clear that Senate Republicans won’t support spending bills that don’t adhere to the top-line number agreed to in the BCA. Although there are reports of resumed behind-the-scenes negotiations between the White House and Congressional Republicans to find a solution to sequestration, for now it just seems like they’re headed nowhere. Fast.

Meanwhile, the Department of the Treasury is currently using “extraordinary measures” to push the debt limit issue off until October or November. Roll Call reports that Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) stated last week that any effort to raise the debt ceiling would have to be accompanied by additional spending cuts, something the White House has been hoping to avoid.

Standard & Poors expressed some optimism on this issue last week when it raised the nation’s long-term credit outlook from negative to stable, after it was downgraded in August 2011 amid concerns of “political risks and rising debt burden.” In reference to the upcoming debt ceiling debate, S&P states “Although we expect some political posturing to coincide with raising the government’s debt ceiling, which now appears likely to occur near the Sept. 30 fiscal year-end, we assume with our outlook revision that the debate will not result in a sudden unplanned contraction in current spending-which could be disruptive-let alone debt service.”

Also of Note

Agriculture. The Senate passed its version of the Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act of 2013 (S. 954), otherwise known as the “Farm Bill,” by a vote of 66 to 27. This bill authorizes funding for research programs at the Department of Agriculture, and according to Cornerstone also provides $200 million in mandatory funding for a new 501(c)(3) organization called the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research. The House will consider their version of the farm bill later this month.

Appointments. The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee approved the nominations of President Obama’s picks for Secretary of Transportation, Anthony Foxx, and Secretary of Commerce, Penny Pritzker.

U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin announced via Twitter last week that she would step down from her position in July. Deputy Surgeon General Boris Lushniak will serve as Interim Surgeon General after her departure.

Budget/Appropriations. The House Appropriations Committee approved and the full House passed the FY 2014 Defense spending bill, which includes $66.4 billion for research, development, testing & evaluation (RDT&E).  Within RDT&E, the bill includes $2.2 billion for basic research, an almost 2% increase from FY 2013 pre-sequester spending levels.

The House Appropriations Committee also approved the FY 2014 Agriculture and Related Agencies spending bill. This bill includes $290.7 million for the Department’s competitive Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), a slight increase over The FY 2013 post-sequester level.

Defense. The Department of Defense released a report outlining the impact of sequestration on its spending accounts.  This report is not for the faint of heart! Of its 438 pages, 436 are comprised of budget tables in very, very small print.

Health. The Battelle Memorial Institute and the advocacy group United for Medical Research released an update of their report, The Impact of Genomics on the U.S. Economy, in a Capitol Hill event featuring NIH Director Francis Collins.  Among the findings in the report is that the “Human Genome Project and related federal research are linked to $965 billion in economic activity, more than 53,000 direct genomics-related jobs and $293 billion in personal income.” If you’re a fan of the human genome project and will be in the DC area, I recommend this new exhibit at the National Museum of Natural History, Unlocking Life’s Code.

Sally Rockey, NIH’s Deputy Director for Extramural Research, writes in her blog about a number of topics that were addressed at last week’s Advisory Committee to the Director (of NIH) meeting, including the BRAIN initiative, the Big Data to Knowledge programs, and implementation of the Biomedical Research Workforce Initiative.

Research.  The White House released a Presidential Memorandum aimed at improving availability of wireless broadband to “to drive innovation, expand consumer services, and increase job creation and economic growth.” As part of this effort, the National Science Foundation (NSF) announced that it “will make strategic investments in research and development to make more efficient use of the nation’s airwaves.”

The Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) released a proposed rule last week that would classify both wild and captive chimpanzees as endangered species, whereas previously only wild chimps were considered endangered. The release does indicate, however, that “Permits would be issued only for scientific purposes or to enhance the propagation or survival of the affected species, including habitat restoration and research on chimpanzees in the wild that contributes to improved management and recovery.” and that “The Service will work closely with the National Institutes of Health, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the biomedical research community, and other affected parties to consider the implications of this proposed rule on their operations.”

The Association of American Universities (AAU), the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities (APLU) and the Council on Government Relations (COGR)–which combined represent most major U.S. research universities–submitted comments to the National Science Board in response to their Request for Information (RFI) on Reducing Investigator’s Administrative Workload for Federally Funded Research.

NSF released the results of its annual Business R&D and Innovation Survey in an InfoBrief which finds that industry spending on U.S. research and development (R&D) remained steady in 2010 from 2009.

Space. SpaceNews reports on draft summaries of the NASA Authorization bill released by the The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee in preparation for a hearing on the legislation coming up next week.  The bill authorizes appropriations for NASA for FY 2014 and FY 2015 (consistent with the BCA), proposed a 6-year appointment for the NASA Administration, and weighs in on human spaceflight, science programs, and aeronautics. The proposal also makes prevents the Administration from implementing the somewhat controversial proposed reorganization of federal STEM programs.

SpaceNews also reports on changes made in NASA’s FY 2013 operating plan, which was recently submitted to Congress and would increase funding for the Commercial Crew program and cut funding to the Planetary Science Division, with cuts specifically affecting the James Webb Telescope and the Earth Sciences Division. Agency operating plans are submitted to Congress after appropriations bills are passed, essentially outlining how the bill will be implemented, and Congress does have the ability to push back on these plans if they have concerns.

Technology/Intellectual Property. The Supreme Court released a long-awaited ruling in the case Association for Molecular Pathology (AMP) v. Myriad. The case essentially looks at whether or not Myriad Genetics’ patent on a specific gene, once isolated outside of the body, is valid. The ruling finds that “A naturally occurring DNA segment is a product of nature and not patent eligible merely because it has been isolated, but synthetic complementary DNA (“cDNA”) is patent eligible because it is not naturally occurring.” For a simplified description of this complex case, check out the SCOTUS blog here.  You can also read NIH’s statement on the ruling here.

In Print

AIP’s FYI Blog posts a summary of  a recent Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee focused on funding for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science.

What’s on Deck

Tuesday (6/18)

  • The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation will hold a full committee hearing on the nomination of Mr. Thomas Wheeler to be Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission.
  • The Senate Appropriations Committee will hold a subcommittee markup of the FY 2014 Agriculture spending bill.
  • The House Appropriations Committee will hold a subcommittee markup of the FY 2014 Energy and Water Appropriations Bill.
  • The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee will hold a full committee hearing on Department of Energy Science & Technology Priorities.
  • IBM and The House Science and Labs Caucus and hold a Capitol Hill briefing on Cognitive Computing: A New Way of Thinking. Contact IBMevent (at) Ketchum.com for more information.

Wednesday (6/19)

  • The House Appropriations Committee will hold a subcommittee markup of the FY 2014 Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development Bill.
  • The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee will hold a subcommittee hearing on the NASA Authorization Act of 2013.
  • The Senate Appropriations Committee will hold a subcommittee markup of the FY 2014 Defense spending bill.

Thursday (6/20)

  • The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources will be holding a full committee hearing on Water Resource Issues in the Klamath River Basin.
  • The Senate Appropriations Committee will hold a full committee markup on the FY 2014 Military Construction/Veterans Affairs and Agriculture spending bills, and adoption of 302(b) allocations.
  • The Ad Hoc Group for Medical Research will hold a Capitol Hill briefing on the 10th anniversary of the Human Genome Project.




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