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Research Funding Hinges on Deal to #RaiseTheCaps

Just three months remain in the current fiscal year, and lawmakers in the House have made significant progress in moving 10 of 12 appropriations bills across the floor. These bills include significant and meaningful funding increases for health research and public health, exciting advocates about the potential to reinvigorate and advance innovation after years of funding cuts, budget stagnation, and making up lost ground.

Lawmakers have made clear their support for science in both words and deeds. Unfortunately, making these promises a reality hinges entirely on Congress and the White House’s ability to stave off devastating cuts — 10% across the board — that are scheduled hit defense and domestic programs, including research in fiscal 2020. Without a bipartisan budget deal to #RaiseTheCaps, lawmakers will have no choice but to cut funding for health research and public health, despite their best intentions.

History tells us that a bipartisan budget deal to avoid “sequestration” is probable. Since the enactment of the Budget Control Act in 2011 that instituted austere spending levels over a decade, lawmakers have only failed to avoid sequestration once — its first year in 2013. This failure to negotiate an agreement resulted in a more than seven percent  cut across the board to all “programs, projects, and activities,” including research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Science Foundation (NSF), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and more. In every year since, lawmakers have enacted three, two-year budget deals to avoid sequestration and #RaiseTheCaps. These deals made possible research and public health funding increases over the last six years; the most recent budget deal, the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, provided the single largest increase in federal spending since the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act or “stimulus” of 2009.

But a fourth budget deal is not a done deal. House and Senate leaders and appropriators are intent upon raising the spending caps and avoiding scheduled cuts. White House officials continue to participate in conversations with congressional leaders, but seem less enthusiastic about a deal, or at least, a deal that would increase funding for domestic priorities like research (recall that the president’s fiscal 2020 budget request proposed deep cuts to research and public health). Indeed, the administration’s preferred course of action is a year-long continuing resolution that waives sequestration and holds flat current levels of funding. This option would avoid the scheduled 10% cut, but it would provide no opportunities for funding increases and new initiatives. A year-long CR is obviously preferable to sequestration, but would be a huge loss to science considering the promising increases proposed in the House appropriations bills.

In sum, now is not the time to rest on our laurels or rely on past precedent. Advocates must remain vigilant, and continue to urge lawmakers to #RaiseTheCaps to raise funding for research. Research!America has tools – sample tweets, emails and more.  You can find those opportunities here.


Emily J. Holubowich is Executive Director Coalition for Health Funding and Founding Co-Chair, NDD United.