Counting beans for Thanksgiving

Senate drives a minibus and the calendar drives Super Committee negotiations.

Eleven of the twelve appropriations bills for Fiscal Year 2012 still await passage by the Senate and passage in final form by both houses (only one bill has passed both chambers).  The current deadline for accomplishing this Herculean feat is November 18, when temporary Fiscal Year 2012 funding runs out. The Senate is gamely pressing forward with the appropriations process.  The first  ‘minibus’ bill that includes the Agriculture, Commerce-Justice-Science and Transportation-Housing bills was being considered on the Senate floor when the Senate recessed the third week in October for a district work period.  The Senate will likely pass it by early November.  Eight bills remain much farther behind in the process.  It is likely that both houses will need to agree on another temporary continuing resolution to provide more time to finish these remaining bills. The Senate is trying the ‘minibus’ approach because they feel it will allow for more input from individual members and greater scrutiny for each bill.  Input and scrutiny: the advantage and disadvantage.  The large number of amendments filed for the Agriculture-Commerce-Transportation minibus is part of the reason the Senate is behind schedule now.  However the remaining bills are configured for debate, the Labor-Health and Human Services-Education bill that includes NIH is sure to be one of the last to be considered, since it includes funding for the Affordable Care Act programs, Planned Parenthood, and other programs that are controversial in this session of Congress.

APA has joined with other science and advocacy organizations in pressing congressional appropriators to maintain the $1.06 billion increase for NIH that was proposed in the House Labor-HHS bill.  Last weekend the APA Science Leadership Conference brought to town 83 psychologists who made over 150 congressional visits in support of that NIH increase (as well as funding for substance abuse research programs in the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs). 

With the November 18 deadline looming, should we be worried AGAIN about a possible government shutdown?  Congress will almost certainly work until the last possible moment, but so far it doesn’t look as if either the Republicans or Democrats are eager to play ‘chicken’ with the budget. This time.

But wait – there’s more! Another, larger process of financial negotiation is layered on top of the appropriations work, and the stakes for its work are even higher.  The congressional Super Committee created by the Budget Control Act is required to report a $1.2 trillion package of proposed budget cuts by November 23. The Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction (JCDR, its real name) is having the same difficult time that all of the preceding committees had in developing a package of spending cuts, entitlement changes and tax increases likely to pass both houses of Congress. The sword hanging over the work of the Super Committee is that automatic cuts that will hit defense and nondefense discretionary budget lines will go into effect in 2013 if a deal is not reached this year.

The House and Senate Appropriations Committees sent letters to the JCDR this month urging the members not to reduce discretionary spending any further, arguing that the discretionary category absorbed significant cuts in the final 2011 spending bills, as well as through the caps enacted in the Budget Control Act of 2011. The House Appropriations Committee Democrats’ letter stated that “failure is not an option.”  The letter noted that if the JCDR does not act in time, mandatory across-the-board cuts that would go into effect in 2013 would reduce the NIH budget by nearly eight percent, and decrease the number of research grants issued by NIH by 2,500-2,700. Under the same scenario, the NSF budget would be cut by $530 million.

In the meantime we will continue to monitor the bean-counting and will report back on any progress.