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Amendments Stall Senate Funding Extension

March 15, 2013—Confronted with nearly 100 amendments to a spending package to provide funding for federal programs through Sept. 30, the Senate March 14 reached a unanimous consent agreement to resume consideration of the measure March 18.  Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) announced that Appropriations Chair Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and Vice Chair Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) “will work on a finite list… of amendments” and that senators should expect “either a cloture vote or votes in relation to amendments” on March 18.   Reid vowed, “One way or the other, we are going to move forward with this bill on Monday.”

Mikulski acknowledged, “There is a lot of pent-up desire to participate in policymaking,” but urged her colleagues, “Let's keep it not to what we would like to do, but let's keep it to what we must do.”

Reid said he wants to finish the legislation so the House has sufficient time to review and vote on the Senate version before the current continuing resolution (CR) expires March 27.  At a March 14 press conference House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) reserved judgment on the Senate version of the CR, saying “I think I’ll wait and see what the Senate produces once it comes off the Senate floor. So far, so good.”

The Senate is considering a Mikulski-Shelby amendment in the nature of a substitute to the six-month funding bill (H.R. 933) the House passed March 6 [see Washington Highlights, March 8].  The Senate amendment includes detailed legislative language for the FY 2013 Agriculture; Commerce, Justice, and Science; Defense; Homeland Security; and Military Construction and Veterans Affairs spending bills.

The seven other FY 2013 spending bills, including Labor-HHS-Education, would be funded as a continuing resolution (CR), with certain so-called “anomalies.”  The amendment provides a total of $1.043 trillion in budget authority, consistent with the FY 2013 spending cap mandated by the Budget Control Act of 2011 [P.L. 112-25] as adjusted by the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 [P.L. 112-240].

The Mikulski-Shelby amendment includes an increase of $71 million for NIH, along with language requiring the Director of NIH to contract with the Institute of Medicine to study the methodology underlying the National Children’s Study. However, the Mikulski-Shelby amendment does not modify the 5 percent cut to NIH and other non-defense discretionary programs as a result of the sequestration mandated March 1.

The Senate rejected an amendment by Senate Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee Chair Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) to add the text of the Labor-HHS bill to the Mikulski-Shelby substitute and provide additional funds for NIH and other health and education programs (see related story).

The bill provides $7.39 billion for the National Science Foundation (NSF). However, the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) section of the bill, which includes NSF, is subject to an across-the-board cut of 1.877 percent, as well as the 5 percent cut from sequestration and a slight reduction of 0.098 percent to align the spending caps with the latest fiscal agreement [see Washington Highlights, March 8, 2013]. As a result, NSF’s overall budget is reduced to $6.88 billion (2.1 percent) below the FY 2012-enacted level. NSF research and related activities are reduced to $5.57 billion, a $153 million (2.7 percent) decrease below the FY 2012-enacted level.

The Senate rejected, 45-54, an amendment by Senators Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) to freeze temporarily the hiring of nonessential federal employees. Among the amendments pending is a Coburn-McCain proposal to prohibit NSF from funding political science research and to decrease the agency’s research and related activities budget by $10 million. The amendment would allocate $7 million of this funding to the National Cancer Institute.

Also pending is a Coburn amendment to restrict the participation of federal employees in conferences.  The House-passed CR includes language that prohibits funding for more than 50 employees from the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) to attend a conference outside of the United States, unless their attendance is “important to the national interest.” The Coburn amendment broadens this language to all federal agencies and all conferences, both within and outside of the United States, and lowers the number of employees to 25. The amendment also retains the “national interest” exception.


Dave Moore
Senior Director, Government Relations
Telephone: 202-828-0559

Alexandra Khalife
Legislative Analyst
Telephone: 202-828-0418


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Jason Kleinman
Sr. Legislative Analyst, Govt. Relations
Telephone: 202-903-0806