Lawmakers appear to be making progress in crafting a package to fund most of the federal government through the remainder of fiscal year (FY) 2017, as Republican appropriators in both chambers dismissed the feasibility of integrating $18 billion in FY 2017 discretionary spending cuts proposed by the White House at this late stage of the process. FY 2017 began October 1, 2016.
Reports persisted of bicameral, bipartisan negotiations to resolve the 11 remaining FY 2017 spending bills through a potential omnibus appropriations bill that would fund all agencies, with congressional leaders voicing an interest in avoiding a government shutdown when the continuing resolution (CR) currently funding most of the government expires April 28.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) expressed to reporters his preference for a full spending package, rather than another CR through the end of the fiscal year, while House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) suggested that the spending bill will not be a vehicle for controversial policy provisions such as defunding certain family planning services.
Among potential provisions that could derail efforts to garner bipartisan support for the package is a supplemental spending request submitted by the White House March 16 to boost funding for the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security in FY 2017. In addition to funding the president’s proposed border security wall – which Democrats have vowed to vote against – the request partially offsets the additional funding through $18 billion in proposed cuts to nondefense programs.
Details of the proposed reductions emerged March 23, with the White House reportedly requesting $7.3 billion in cuts to the Labor-HHS-Education spending bill in FY 2017. Among the recommendations is a $1.232 billion cut to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) by eliminating new spending on Institutional Development Award (IDeA) grants ($50 million) and reducing research grants ($1.182 billion).
Among other proposed reductions within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) are a $50 million cut to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) and a combined $170 million in reductions to the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA)’s health professions programs and Maternal and Child Health Block Grant’s special projects.
Appropriators, however, quickly indicated that negotiations on the FY 2017 spending bills were too far along to reopen. House Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee Chair Tom Cole (R-Okla.) and Senate Energy-Water Appropriations Subcommittee Chair Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who also chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, both characterized the request as “a little late” to reporters.
The White House did not indicate whether the president will accept a spending package that excludes the supplemental funding.
Both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees approved FY 2017 spending bills in 2016 with substantial increases for NIH. The Senate Committee bill provides $34.1 billion for NIH, a $2 billion (6.3 percent) increase over FY 2016 levels [see Washington Highlights, June 10, 2016], while the House Committee bill provides $33.3 billion, an increase of $1.25 billion (3.9 percent) over the previous fiscal year [see Washington Highlights, July 8, 2016].