Labor-Health and Human Services-Education funding bill moving through Appropriations Committee

House Subcommittee Would Raise NIH spending but cut critical programs       

On June 17 the House Appropriations Labor Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies (aka Labor-HHS) Subcommittee approved the $153 billion FY 2016 spending bill on a party-line vote.  The bill is $3.7 billion below the FY 2015 enacted level and $14.6 billion below the President’s budget request. 

There was great anticipation surrounding the release of the Labor-HHS bill (released on June 16) and the subsequent hearing because there had not been a House markup of an appropriations bill in three years.  The bill funds many important and less controversial programs including the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Department of Education to name a few, and also covers some essential but politically divisive areas such as the Affordable Care Act (i.e., Obamacare). 

Some agencies fared relatively well in the subcommittee bill.  NIH was provided $31.2 billion, $1.1 billion above the FY 2015 enacted level and $100 million above the President's budget request. Included in this funding is $165 million to support activities for the “National Children's Study-Alternative”, as well as increases for several specific  initiatives, including a $300 million increase for Alzheimer's disease research; $150 million (a $95 million increase), for the Brain Research through Application of Innovative Neuro-technologies (BRAIN) initiative; and $200 million for the Precision Medicine Initiative. The Graduate Education in Psychology program would receive a $2 million increase, to $9.9 million.

The bill also provided CDC an increase to $7 billion, $140 million above the FY 2015 enacted level and equal to the President’s budget request.  This includes an increase to the CDC Injury Center which funds violence prevention research and programs and provides a total of $70 million for evidence-based Prescription Drug Overdose programs, up $50 million from last year. 

However, the 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 bill provides the Institute of Education Sciences (IES, the research arm of the Department) $410 million, significantly below the FY 2015 budget of $573 million and the administration’s request of $676 million.

In addition, the bill eliminates the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), the only federal agency dedicated solely to health services research.  AHRQ-funded health services research provides critical information on how to improve high quality care, address skyrocketing costs, and provide the best possible outcomes for the greatest number of people.  APA relies heavily on the systematic reviews produced by AHRQ’s Evidence-based Practice Centers, and other advocacy organizations and APA coalition partners similarly make use of AHRQ’s research.  Stay tuned to GRO Today for any updates and advocacy opportunities regarding AHRQ.

In addition to AHRQ, the Affordable Care Act is also defunded in the bill, as are several family planning programs, and $100 million is cut from the Patient Center Research Outcomes Institutes (PCORI).

In her opening remarks, Subcommittee Ranking Member Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) noted that the Labor-HHS bill, also called “The People’s Bill” because it provides funding, services, and programs in public health, education, scientific research, and job training, is “woefully underfunded.”  Given the decreasing budget caps and additional budget cuts (i.e., sequestration) that Congress approved in 2011, there is too little money to fund all the priorities in the bill.  DeLauro called for a more durable solution, a budget deal between the parties that ends sequestration and doesn’t rely so heavily on spending cuts to reduce the deficit.

Several Democratic Subcommittee members offered amendments to the Labor-HHS bill, including Rep. DeLauro who attempted to increase NIH’s funding through spending cap adjustments and Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA) who attempted to restore AHRQ.  Ultimately these and other Democratic proposed amendments failed on party-line votes.   Subcommittee Chair Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) noted that spending cannot be increased in the absence of corresponding revenue offsets. 

The bill is headed to the full House Appropriations Committee the week of June 22, where it will likely also be approved on a party line vote.  It’s considered unlikely the bill could pass a vote of the full House, so the bill may advance no further in the House, but still be used a basis for conference with the Senate.   The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor-HHS-Education may also begin its consideration of the bill the week of June 22. 

APA opposes the cuts in education, family planning, the defunding of ACA, and the elimination of the Agency of Healthcare Research and Quality, and will focus on communicating those concerns to the Senate.  Science Government Relations Office Director Geoff Mumford explained, “We appreciate that the 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.” 

Please watch the Government Relations Today Blog for more news, and contact Craig Fisher with any comments or questions.