Once again narrowly avoiding a shutdown of the federal government, on March 21 Congress passed a continuing resolution, or CR, to fund the federal government for the remainder of fiscal year (FY) 2013. Both the House and Senate approved the plan, which maintains sequestration, prior to the expiration of the current CR on March 27.
The CR continues to fund much of the federal government at FY 2012 levels, though because of the intense advocacy from the research community the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is one of only a few programs to receive an increase. An agreement between Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Ranking Member Richard Shelby (R-AL), and supported by the House, will mean the NIH will receive an additional $71 million in FY 2013 to lessen the impact of the $1.6 billion sequestration. Previously, an amendment by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), one of Congress’ most vocal supporters of the NIH that would have increased funding for the NIH by $211 million was defeated.
The final bill also includes an amendment sponsored by Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) that shifts $10 million intended for political science research at the National Science Foundation toward research at the National Cancer Institute. Consequently, the final FY 2013 funding bill restores $81 million of the approximately $1.6 billion cut to the NIH budget.
Meanwhile, the broader budget negotiation process for the next fiscal year (FY 2014) also began this week with spending blueprints in both chambers. The House budget proposal entitled “The Path to Prosperity” was approved by the House on March 21. The House FY 2014 budget proposal, much like the House Republicans’ FY 2013 budget proposal, would make fundamental changes to the Medicare and Medicaid programs, repeal the Affordable Care Act, and enact significant additional cuts in discretionary spending, in addition to sequestration. This proposal, however, is unlikely to move forward in the U.S. Senate.
In the Senate, the Democratic leadership proposed a different budget plan that would build upon current health care reform activities and permanently fix the sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula used to calculate Medicare physician reimbursement. This weekend, the Senate will vote on over 100 amendments to the proposal, including one by Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS) that would increase funding for the NIH. While the NIH budget would still face cuts because of sequestration, Senator Moran’s amendment would take an important first step toward reversing a portion of these cuts. The full Senate is expected to vote on both the Moran amendment and the FY 2014 budget resolution before leaving for a two-week recess on March 22.
As Congress continues efforts to establish the FY 2014 budget, lawmakers need to understand that this is not the time to defund science; this is the time to invest in medical research. However, they will only understand if they hear from you, their constituents. Visit the ASH Advocacy Center today to send a message to your elected representatives about the impact that funding cuts will have on the research you do and the patients you treat.
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