Labor-Health and Human Services Funding bills moving through House and Senate

Senate Appropriations Committee approves its version in 16-14 vote

The House Appropriations Committee completed work on its version of the Labor-HHS-Education bill on June 24.  While it considered a number of amendments in full committee, the bill remains largely as the Labor-HHS-Education Subcommittee approved it (see blog entry).  The Senate Appropriations Committee approved the Senate version of the bill on June 25.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) was a big winner in the House and Senate bills, with the Senate bill, S. 1695, providing $32.1 billion for NIH in Fiscal Year 2016, $2 billion (6.6 percent) more than the FY 2015 enacted level, and $900 million more than the House bill.  

Both bills fully fund the administration’s NIH Precision Medicine Initiative at $200 million. The House bill provides $150 million for the Brain Research through Application of Initiative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) initiative, an $85 million increase over FY 2015.  The Senate bill provides the administration’s request of $135 million.

The House bill provides $886 million for the Alzheimer’s disease research initiative, an increase of $300 million over FY 2015. The Senate bill does not specify a funding level for Alzheimer’s disease, but includes a $350 million increase for the National Institute on Aging, “a significant portion of which the Committee expects to be dedicated to Alzheimer’s disease research.”

The House would eliminate the Agency for Healthcare Quality and Research, while the Senate would cut the agency’s budget by 35 percent, or by $128 million. Both bills cut programs that help enable the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, including those in the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute.

Overall, the Senate bill cuts funding for the Department of Education by $1.7 billion. The House bill funds the Department of Education at $64.4 billion, $2.8 billion below the FY 2015 level and $6.4 billion below the President's budget request.  The House bill cuts the Institute of Education Sciences, the research arm of the Department of Education, to $409.9 million from the FY 2015 level of $576.9 million, a loss of $167 million.  The Senate bill cuts about $14 million from the FY 2015 level.   

The American Psychological Association (APA) and other scientific and health organizations are looking at these bills as a very mixed bag.  The majority parties did work valiantly to prioritize important programs, such as NIH and Head Start. APA and its many coalition partners have worked long and hard for NIH increases like those in these bills. But the increases come at the expense of other important programs – family planning, education research, health services research.  APA sent a letter to members of the Senate Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee before its markup, urging full funding for the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

As APA’s Science Government Relations Office Director Geoff Mumford’s noted, “We appreciate that the (House Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations) Subcommittee wanted to give a meaningful increase to NIH and CDC, and those funds are badly needed.  But cannibalizing education research and health programs is a bad path to that result.  Congress needs to fix this broken budget process – it isn’t possible to cut our way out of the deficit.”  

It is unlikely the House bill will reach a floor vote—its passage is uncertain given the Democrats’ vow to vote against it because it spends too little, and with some Republicans vowing to oppose it for spending too much.  However, the Senate version may come up for a vote in that body.  A House-Senate conference will negotiate differences in the two versions.  But that’s where the crystal ball gets foggy.

Stay tuned to the APA Science Advocacy blog, where we will soon explain the difficult political realities of this year’s appropriations bills. Will partisan disagreements lead to a broader budget deal, or to a government shutdown, or to a series of short-term continuing resolutions?