Can the House and Senate pass a common budget?

Advocates are pressing for improved NIH language in the budget conference report.

A conference committee met this week to see if differences can be negotiated between the budgets passed by the House and Senate. In March, the House and Senate advanced separate budget resolutions that would continue to allow outlays under the statutory budget caps -- $523 billion for defense and $493.5 billion for non-defense programs in FY 2016. The conference hopes to report a compromise by the end of April.

The Ad hoc Group for Medical Research, a coalition in which APA is active, sent a letter urging the budget conferees to support the Moran amendment in the budget conference committee.  The Moran amendment would create a deficit neutral reserve fund to support investment in biomedical research and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). This amendment was co-sponsored by 33 Senators and approved by unanimous consent in the Senate budget resolution. Supporters argue that defense spending advocates have created a way to increase defense spending by essentially taking portions of it off budget in an Overseas Contingency Operations account; thus the biomedical research fund would be a way to help maintain parity between treatment of defense and nondefense programs.

Another issue the conference committee is negotiating is budget reconciliation.  The resolutions included varying instructions for this process, which allows Congress to change current law by altering funding allotments for mandatory spending programs, such as Medicare and portions of the Medicaid program. The reconciliation process has been touted by opponents of the Affordable Care Act as a potential vehicle for repealing the health care law.

While the budget is getting sorted out, the first two appropriations bills out of the gate this year will be Energy and Water, and Military Construction-VA: the two respective subcommittees are planning markups this week. The bills will reach the floor the week of April 27. House rules do not allow the appropriations bills to be voted on before May 15 unless Congress passes a joint resolution on the budget.  Accordingly, it appears that the House does intend to work out the differences with the Senate bill.