A Weekly Advocacy Message From Mary Woolley: Just six legislative days before recess

Mary Woolley

Dear Research Advocate:  
  
Today, the House Labor-HHS appropriations subcommittee marked up its FY17 funding bill, which includes funding for NIH, CDC and AHRQ. NIH received a $1.25 billion increase, $750 million less than the Senate increase. Given the subcommittee’s overall budget allocation ($569 million below fiscal year 2016) and the more conservative funding climate in the House, this is still an extraordinarily positive outcome. At the markup, Chairman Tom Cole (R-OK-04) noted that the $1.25 billion increase set a floor - rather than a ceiling - for NIH funding in FY17, a positive sign for potential negotiations with the Senate later in the process.
 
The House Labor-HHS bill proposes a dedicated $300 million reserve fund at the CDC to address Zika and other emerging disease threats. Our reading at this point is that overall - reserve fund included - the CDC receives a $605 million increase over FY16.  Meanwhile, for the first time in four years AHRQ funding is not eliminated in the FY17 House bill, but still takes a deep cut. Our statement, which was quoted in POLITICO, can be found here
 
What does all this mean? Full Appropriations Committee consideration is next, potentially next week, with no further action expected on Labor-HHS as a stand-alone bill. Congress is likely to pass a short-term continuing resolution (CR) before the end of FY16 on September 30, flat-funding government until after the election. Then we face one of two scenarios: 1) The House and Senate negotiate an omnibus measure that incorporates all or most of the appropriations bills into one package (this has become standard practice over the last few appropriations cycles); or 2) the political climate simply does not permit passage of such a measure, and Congress kicks the can way down the road. In the latter case, we may not see an FY17 funding bill until spring 2017, if we see one at all. There is always the chance that Congress will be forced into passing a CR for the full fiscal year, which would leave us with flat funding until FY18. While this worst case scenario is not the most likely one, this is an unlikely year. Stay tuned and keep up your advocacy!
 
This week, House and Senate negotiators met to conference the opioid package, the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA), but disagreed about whether the bill should include mandatory funding. This makes the measure’s future uncertain, particularly in the Senate as passage without Democratic support is unlikely. Even if it does pass the House and Senate, the President may not sign a bill that lacks funding.
 
While it appears that efforts to include the 21st Century Cures Act in the CARA package will not bear out, it does show that advocates and congressional leaders alike are still thinking creatively about ways to make the Cures bill a reality in this Congress. On the Senate side, we understand that Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) continue to look for a path forward for their Cures companion legislation. The clock is ticking. Only six scheduled legislative days remain before an extended recess until after Labor Day. Push for Senate action now!  
 
No doubt Zika, antimicrobial resistance and other hot topics will be discussed in two fora next week: on Tuesday, July 12 at 11am eastern, tune in via webcast to the celebration of CDC’s 70th anniversary, featuring seven CDC directors past and present.  And if you’re on the Hill on Wednesday, July 13, stop by the Coalition for Health Funding’s Public Health Fair in the Cannon Caucus Room. Research!America will have a booth promoting our annual Public Health Thank You Day (celebrated on the Monday before Thanksgiving), and we would love to see you!  

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Without continued support for health research, many of the most promising young scientists, their ideas and a myriad of potentially life-changing scientific breakthroughs will vanish into oblivion.
Paul Marinec, PhD; University of California San Francisco