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  • Washington Highlights

    Senate Passes FY 2019 Labor-HHS Funding Bill

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

    The Senate Aug. 23 voted 85-7 to approve the fiscal year (FY) 2019 Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies (Labor-HHS) Appropriations bill, including increased funding over FY 2018 for the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The vote represents the first time in 15 years that the Senate has passed the Labor-HHS bill before the start of the fiscal year and sets the stage for the House to finalize funding levels.

    Specifically, the Senate passed H.R. 6157, which combines the Senate Appropriations Committee-passed FY 2019 Labor-HHS spending bill (S. 3158) with the text of the Senate committee-passed Defense spending bill (S. 3159). Prior to the vote on final passage, the Senate adopted by unanimous consent a manager’s package that includes 53 of the 309 filed amendments to the bill. Senators had approved four additional noncontroversial amendments earlier in the week.

    The Senate-approved bill preserves topline funding for most agencies within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), including the $39.1 billion provided in the Committee-passed bill for the NIH, a $2 billion (5.4 percent) increase over the comparable FY 2018 funding level [see Washington Highlights, June 29]. The Ad Hoc Group for Medical Research, convened by the AAMC, issued an Aug. 23 statement on the Senate-passed bill, noting that “the $2 billion increase [for NIH] keenly reflects the sustainable, predictable growth above inflation necessary to realize the invaluable promise of new cures, diagnostics, and treatments offered through NIH.”

    The final package incorporated a number of amendments to the Labor-HHS bill, including two directly related to NIH: an amendment from Senators Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), and Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) would transfer $5 million from the NIH Office of the Director to the HHS Office of the Inspector General to ensure integrity in grant applications and an amendment from Senators Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Angus King (I-Maine) would require NIH to conduct a study of current funding levels for research related to mental health and substance use disorders.

    The minibus also includes an amendment from Senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) making up to $1 million available to HHS to require pharmaceutical drug ads to include pricing information. A separate amendment from Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) would require HHS to issue a report related to DNA sequencing in China and Russia.

    The Senate did not consider two amendments that would have increased funding levels for the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), filed by Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Cory Booker (D-N.J.), and the Title VIII nursing education programs, filed by Senators Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.).

    Upon final passage, AAMC President and CEO Darrell G. Kirch, M.D., issued a statement praising the Senate “for their dedication to the NIH and other programs along the health care continuum” and thanking Senate and Appropriations Committee leadership for their bipartisan commitment to bringing the bill to the Senate floor for the first time in over a decade.

    Attention now turns to the House, whose own version of the Labor-HHS bill awaits consideration of the full chamber after the House Appropriations Committee approved the bill on July 11 [see Washington Highlights, July 13].