Spending legislation for fiscal year 2015 is moving

Allocation to appropriations subcommittee may signal trouble for NIH.  

The House of Representatives passed the first FY 2015 spending bill last week, the Military Construction/Veterans Affairs (VA) bill (HR 4486). The bill provides  $588.9 million (an increase of $3 million or 0.6 percent) for the VA Medical and Prosthetic Research Program, the same as the President’s request. That’s one bill down, 11 to go — and of course the Senate needs to pass the bills as well.

In addition, the House Appropriations Committee approved the Commerce, Justice, and Science (CJS) spending bill, allocating$7.41 billion (3.3 percent above the FY 2014 level) for the National Science Foundation (NSF). The bill provides $5.98 billion for the Research and Related Activities account. NSF’s increase was notable given that funding for the bill overall was 1 percent less than was allocated in FY 2014.

Another House Appropriations Committee vote has set the FY 2015 allocations (technically, the 302(b) allocations) for each of the 12 appropriations subcommittees — that is, the committee approved the division of available funds among the subcommittees —  and the results do not signal a good year for the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The bill conforms to the spending ceiling for FY 2015 that was agreed to in the Bipartisan Budget Act — $1.014 trillion. The committee’s practice, to which it adhered this week as well, has been to provide more generous allocations to the appropriations bills that are least controversial, so it can move those bills more quickly. The allocation for the Labor-HHS-Education bill, which often attracts partisan slings and arrows, is about $1 billion, or 0.7 percent, below the FY 2014 allocation. With those numbers, the Labor-HHS-Education subcommittee will be hard-pressed to provide any sort of increase for the National Institutes of Health without deep cuts to other programs in the bill. U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee, pointed out that the subcommittee has additional funding pressures, including increased student loan servicing costs that the FY 2015 bill must cover, so the job of the subcommittee to craft a bill that can receive enough votes to pass is even more unenviable than it first appears.

So — what happens when the subcommittee can’t write a bill that over 50 percent of its members can support?  In that case, the bill would be rolled into a continuing resolution, and the House leadership would have to decide whether to break the budget agreement or find additional revenues to cover the costs. With the 2011 agreement that gave us sequestration, the Budget Control Act, Congress also imposed on itself budget caps — spending ceilings — that shrink each year. Rep. DeLauro pointed out last week that the current FY 2014 allocation for the Labor-HHS bill is already 17.1 percent less than the 2010 allocation. At some point, your blogger expects that Congress will find itself unable to manage 2015 priorities with Y2K-era funding. It isn’t only domestic spending that is raising concern: pressures on the defense budget have been widely reported too. The Senate 302(b) allocations are expected to be made public before the end of May, and while both chambers have the same overall budget ceiling, the Senate will allocate funds among the 12 subcommittees differently than the House. Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., announced that her panel will meet on May 22 to consider the military construction/VA bill, followed by the agriculture spending measure. These will be the first bills to be voted on by the Senate appropriators.