Senate appropriations committee approves funding bill for health programs

Appropriations process proceeding despite questions about sequester.

On June 14, the Senate Appropriations Committee voted to report its Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 spending bill for Labor, Health and Human Services and Education. According to a summary statement released by the committee, the bill would provide $158.8 billion, including offsets and cap adjustments, to the Departments of Labor, HHS, and Education and related agencies. HHS funding would see a slight 1.9 percent increase under the bill, providing discretionary programs $71 billion (program level), up from $69.6 billion in Fiscal Year 2012. NIH is provided $30.723 billion, a $100 million increase.

Funding levels in the Senate bill surpassed the gloomy expectations about next fiscal year’s funding prospects. Remember that there are many acts still to play out in this drama, including floor action and any subsequent funding cuts that may come as a result of the sequester provision in last summer’s Budget Control Act. The House Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee plans to mark up its version of the bill on June 20, 2012, if Chairman Dennis Rehberg (R-MT) can secure enough votes for passage. Last year, the House Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee was unable to report a bill because of lack of agreement within the majority party about funding levels and priorities.

You’re probably wondering – what is happening with the sequester? Worrying, mostly. You may recall that unless Congress acts to stop or replace them, the sequester, or automatic cuts, would trim $109 billion from FY 2013 spending on Jan. 2, including $55 billion from defense and the balance from domestic programs. Over nine years, the automatic cuts would reduce spending by $1.2 trillion. You correctly assume that this subject comes up in virtually every advocacy coalition meeting and phone conversation.

Last week, U.S. Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA) sent a letter to Kathleen Sebelius, the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), asking how the agency plans to distribute a potential 7.8 percent cut (the amount estimated by the Congressional Budget Office, also the lowest current estimate) that will take place if the Budget Control Act’s sequester cannot be avoided. Rep. Markey raises concerns about how research, food and drug safety, and assistance to low-income families will be affected. He cites estimates of cuts to research based on Research!America’s recent analysis: that organization predicts $3.6 billion in cuts to research at HHS, including $2.4 billion in cuts to NIH.