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  • Washington Highlights

    House Deems Increased Budget Cap as Bipartisan Discussions on Legislation Begin

    Tannaz Rasouli, Sr. Director, Public Policy & Strategic Outreach

    The House April 9 adopted a resolution to “deem” the overall discretionary budget cap at $1.295 trillion in fiscal year (FY) 2020, enabling the Appropriations Committee to begin drafting and considering the 12 annual spending bills at higher funding levels than currently permitted in statute.

    Stakeholder organizations, including the AAMC, have been urging Congress and the administration to increase the discretionary spending totals established under the Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA) quickly to avoid delays in the appropriations process and substantial cuts to federal programs, including the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Health Resources and Services Administration, and other federal agencies.

    Lawmakers approved the resolution (H.Res. 294) 219-201 as part of a rule that the House adopted to guide floor consideration of legislation that was pending full House debate, including the Investing for the People Act (H.R. 2021), the House Budget Committee bill to raise the discretionary spending limit in statute [see Washington Highlights, April 5].

    Like the deeming resolution, H.R. 2021 would set the overall discretionary spending cap at $1.295 trillion, with $631 billion specified for nondefense spending and $664 billion designated for defense spending. Both figures represent increases over the FY 2019 spending level and the statutory caps established for FY 2020 in the BCA.

    House leaders ultimately decided not to schedule an immediate vote on the legislation, however, with Democrats in the House Progressive Caucus expressing objections that the bill does not invest sufficiently in nondefense spending and Democrats in the moderate Blue Dog Coalition calling to offset the increased spending.

    Instead, the deeming resolution provides a topline figure for House appropriators to use in drafting the annual spending bills. Though H.Res. 294 does not specify totals for defense and nondefense spending, House Appropriations Committee Chair Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) reportedly plans to adhere to the defense-nondefense split proposed in H.R. 2021 when setting the individual subcommittee “302(b)” allocations within the $1.295 trillion total.

    Because the total funding level exceeds the BCA statutory caps, however, lawmakers eventually will need to pass legislation to modify the caps in statute, which will require the president’s signature. Without such action, any enacted spending bills for FY 2020 will be subject to automatic cuts to bring funding levels in line with the limits established in the BCA, a $55 billion cut below FY 2019 funding levels for nondefense programs.

    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters April 9 that after separate discussions with President Donald Trump and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), House and Senate leaders have agreed to assemble a group of staff to initiate discussions on a deal to address the spending caps in both FYs 2020 and 2021.

    The Ad Hoc Group for Medical Research, a coalition of over 300 NIH advocacy organizations convened by the AAMC, issued an April 10 statement praising Congressional leaders for the announcement, noting the need for a bipartisan budget deal to allow sufficient investment in the NIH and other priorities. The statement calls on “lawmakers and the White House to work quickly to enact a bicameral, bipartisan budget agreement that provides parity between defense and non-defense spending and enables a robust investment in NIH and other key programs in FY 2020 and FY 2021.”