As members of Congress return to D.C. this month, they face a looming deadline: if no action is taken to complete the fiscal year 2017 (FY17) budget process or pass a continuing resolution (CR) that temporarily extends FY16 funding levels, a government shutdown will take effect on October 1, 2016. While significant progress has been made on the 12 appropriations bills that comprise the federal budget, it is unlikely Congress can pass these bills in September. The most likely scenario is a CR. Some members of Congress are even pushing for a long-term CR that flat funds the federal government for six or even 12 months, preventing any increase in funding for strategic priorities like medical, health and other scientific research. Research!America recently sent a letter to congressional leadership urging them to avoid a long-term CR.
September will also be a critical month in the effort to pass Cures legislation, which aims to refine the policy climate and leverage targeted resources to accelerate medical progress. While the House passed their version of this legislation, the 21st Century Cures Act (HR 6), in July 2015 and the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee passed nearly 20 separate bills related to Cures, these bills have not yet been advanced for full Senate consideration. Pay-fors to offset the costs of a potential one-time research fund, similar to what was included in the House version, remain a point of contention. During the recess, the Chairs of the Congressional Committees of jurisdiction both expressed optimism about the legislation. House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman and HR 6 sponsor Fred Upton (R-MI-06) penned an article indicating his support for getting a final deal done in September, and Senate HELP Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) expressed optimism in an interview for getting the legislation completed before the end of the year.
As local infections and travel-related cases of Zika virus are reported in the continental US, Americans are facing a public health emergency. After Congress adjourned for summer recess without reaching agreement on Zika emergency funding legislation, Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell announced that existing funding to address domestic Zika efforts will be exhausted by the end of September. During the recess, House and Senate leaders were reportedly working with the administration to reach a compromise that can be considered by legislators this month.
There is growing interest in the idea of a permanent fund to allow rapid response to public health emergencies. Versions of this idea were put forward in a House bill introduced by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT-03) and included in the House FY17 Labor-H Appropriations bill. The House Labor-H appropriations legislation, which was approved by the full House Appropriations Committee but not advanced for full House consideration, establishes a reserve fund within the CDC to allow for quick responses to infectious diseases.