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  • Washington Highlights

    Little Progress on Appropriations with CR Deadline Looming

    Christa Wagner, Manager, Government Relations
    Tannaz Rasouli, Sr. Director, Public Policy & Strategic Outreach

    With less than one month remaining before the continuing resolution (CR) funding the federal government expires, lawmakers showed few signs of overcoming the stalemate that has prevented any of the 12 annual spending bills from being enacted for FY 2020.

    Senate Appropriations Chair Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) Oct. 23 noted that another CR into February or March 2020 is a likely next step to avoid a government shutdown, as the Senate has yet to pass any spending bills. The current CR funds the government through Nov. 21 [see Washington Highlights, Sept. 27].

    The impasse centers on concerns that despite a budget agreement this summer revising discretionary spending caps [see Washington Highlights, Aug. 2] Senate appropriators have not distributed the funding levels evenly across the 12 individual spending bills. In particular, Democrats have raised concerns that overall funding for the Labor, Health and Human Services (HHS), Education, and Related Agencies (Labor-HHS-Ed) spending bill is lower than it would be, as a result of $5 billion reserved in the Senate’s draft Homeland Security spending bill for the president’s proposed border wall. Democrats also raised concerns over $3.6 billion that the administration proposed to re-allocate from military construction projects funded through the Military Construction, Department of Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies bill to the Pentagon to supplement funding of the border wall.

    The full Senate Oct. 22 voted, 92-2, to begin debate on a spending package (H.R. 3055) containing four bills passed unanimously out of the Senate Appropriations Committee: Commerce, Justice, Science; Agriculture, Rural Development, and Food and Drug Administration; Interior and Environment; and Transportation, Housing and Urban Development. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) Oct. 17 invoked cloture on the “minibus” spending bill, along with a second package of fiscal year (FY) 2020 appropriations bills, in an attempt to begin debate on the Senate floor.

    Following completion of the first four-bill package, it is expected that the Senate will attempt to consider the second package, which includes the Labor-HHS-Education and Defense spending bills, along with two other spending bills. The Senate failed to begin floor debate on the same package in September [see Washington Highlights, Sept. 20], and without changes to the allocation for overall funding in the spending bills, observers expect a similar outcome.

    The Ad Hoc Group for Medical Research, convened by the AAMC, sent an Oct. 24 letter with over 300 signatories stating, “To enable passage of a bipartisan spending package that maximizes investment in NIH, we strongly urge you to provide a meaningful increase in the allocation for Labor-HHS-Education appropriations and complete the spending bill as soon as possible.”

    Noting the strong bipartisan, bicameral support for increased investment in NIH, the letter also emphasizes that, “Any further delay in finalizing FY 2020 funding levels – or, worse, reverting to a long-term stopgap that freezes funding at the levels in FY 2019 – would slow our progress toward cures and ultimately impede our ability to address major public health challenges.”