House and Senate leadership and appropriators continue discussions about a continuing resolution (CR) to extend current funding levels for all federal agencies temporarily and avoid a government shutdown when the new federal fiscal year (FY) begins Oct. 1.
Lawmakers reportedly have been working toward an agreement on a stopgap that would expire Dec. 9, but also have been discussing supplemental funding to address Zika and other items that could be included with the CR. Among other issues, congressional leaders still are deliberating language in the House-passed Zika conference report that would make family planning clinics in Puerto Rico ineligible for Zika funding [see Washington Highlights, June 24]. Funding to address the opioid epidemic and emergency flood recovery aid for Louisiana could also be attached to the stopgap.
As negotiations persisted, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) postponed until Sept. 19 a procedural vote on the expected vehicle for the CR, the House-passed Legislative Branch appropriations bill (H.R. 5325). If the vote is not delayed further, senators would vote on the CR later that week, before sending it to the House for approval.
Meanwhile, the House Freedom Caucus continues to urge House leadership to consider a CR through March, which Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has told the press and the president that Senate Democrats would reject.
Though the Senate has taken the lead on drafting a stopgap that would buy lawmakers time to complete appropriations after the November elections, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) reportedly has been floating a potential strategy for the FY 2017 endgame once that CR expires. According to press reports, Speaker Ryan has proposed completing FY 2017 spending bills through a series of “minibuses” – which combine two or three appropriations bills together – rather than a single omnibus package of all 12 spending bills.
In response to those reports, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told reporters that Democrats would prefer finalizing appropriations through an omnibus, to ensure all 12 spending bills are completed. Under a minibus strategy, Congress could choose to extend FY 2016 levels again throughout the remainder of FY 2017 for controversial bills such as the Labor-HHS-Education spending bill, which funds the National Institutes of Health (NIH), deferring any new funding decisions until the following fiscal year.
The Ad Hoc Group for Medical Research, which the AAMC convenes, sent a Sept. 7 letter with more than 200 patient groups, medical and scientific societies, academic institutions, and research institutions urging House and Senate appropriations leaders to finalize FY 2017 spending bills, including funding for NIH, by the end of the calendar year. The letter notes, “Aside from the budget implications, a long-term CR would create inefficiencies and add uncertainty to a system that is already under stress” [see Washington Highlights, Sept. 9].