Legislating, but not celebrating

The journey toward 2012 funding for NIH and other health programs — NOT the scenic route.

First a bit of catching up:  Congress cleared and the President signed legislation (H.R. 2608), a Continuing Resolution to keep the government running through November 18, 2011, with the assumption that over a month is PLENTY of time for Congress to complete all the spending legislation for Fiscal Year (FY) 2012. We at the Blog are optimists, so we’ll just let that statement go unchallenged for now.  The new Continuing Resolution sets government spending at the $1.043 trillion level agreed to in the Budget Control Act and requires a 1.503 percent across the board cut from FY 2011 spending for all “continuing projects and activities” that are not otherwise specifically provided for in the Act.

House and Senate Appropriators will continue drafting, and negotiating,  the FY 2012 spending bills, with the goal of passing an omnibus—or several “mini-buses”—before November 18.  In some cases, bills will be conferenced without ever reaching the floor for a vote.  Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-MT), Chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor-Health and Human Services-Education, introduced H.R. 3070, a draft of an appropriation bill—never even considered by the Subcommittee—in order to have a baseline from which to negotiate with the Senate.  Chairman Rehberg was not confident he could steer a bill to passage through his Subcommittee.  Labor regulations and provisions related to the Affordable Care Act make the Labor-HHS bill a likely battleground.

Like the President's request, H.R. 3070 provides $31.7 billion for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), $1 billion (3.3 percent) more than the current year's level, and $1.2 billion more than provided in the Senate committee-approved bill. That’s good news, right?  Unfortunately, NIH’s increase comes at the expense of other health agencies. The bill eliminates all Affordable Care Act-related funding—for example, the Prevention and Public Health Fund, and funds for Comparative Effectiveness Research at the Agency for Health Care Research and Quality—as well as funding for Planned Parenthood.

On September 21st, the full Senate Appropriations Committee approved its FY 2012 Labor-HHS-Education spending bill (S 1599) by a partisan vote of 16 Democrats to 14 Republicans.  The allocation for the NIH was $30.5 billion, $190 million (0.6 percent) below FY 2011. The bill is not expected to reach the Senate floor for a vote, so the negotiating parameters are essentially set.  Senate Labor-HHS Subcommittee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) remarked that it had been a difficult bill to write.  We can assume this month’s march to finish FY 2012 funding bills is “Legislation Without Celebration.”