Following Brief Shutdown, Congress Passes Budget Deal and Continuing Resolution

The federal government experienced a roughly five hour shutdown last night, the second in 2018, after Kentucky Senator Rand Paul filibustered the sweeping budget deal and continuing resolution package (on the grounds of how much it would cost taxpayers) and refused to allow action on it before the midnight deadline.

However, passage of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 in the Senate was inevitable, and around 1:30 a.m., the chamber voted 71-28 in favor of the spending package (a summary of the bill can be accessed here). The House, in a 240-186 vote, followed suit and passed the bill around 5:30 a.m., after which time it went to and was signed into law by the president.

The measure includes a deal to raise the spending caps by roughly $300 billion over two years, increasing the caps on non-defense discretionary spending by $63 billion in FY 2018 and $68 billion in FY 2019 and raising the defense caps by $80 billion in FY 2018 and $85 billion in FY 2019. By lifting the federal debt limit until March 2019, lawmakers will push off future confrontations over the spending caps until after the midterm elections.

In addition to identifying the top-line numbers, the package also includes a stopgap spending measure that will keep the government funded at current levels through March 23, 2018, giving appropriators six weeks to finalize final omnibus legislation for fiscal year (FY) 2018. Other significant provisions in the bill include:

  • An additional $2 billion for research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH);
  • A funding extension for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for an additional four years, lengthening the six-year extension that Congress passed last month;
  • $7 billion over two years for community health centers;
  • $6 billion for new grants and prevention programs to combat the mental health and opioid crises; and
  • A $1.35 billion cut to the Prevention and Public Health Fund over 10 years (significantly less than the $2.85 billion proposed in the House’s CR).

With the negotiations on the overall spending caps out of the way, lawmakers will now begin to iron out the final details for FY 2018 funding legislation. While the bill makes a step in the right direction, there is still concern about how Congress will divvy up the 302(b) allocations, the amount of funding given to the respective appropriations subcommittees, such as Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies. The Coalition for Health Funding, of which AADR is a member, recently sent a letter to lawmakers urging them to ensure health-related departments receive a fair share of relief.

As negotiations transpire, the community will encourage lawmakers for proportional relief for the agencies and programs of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and will carefully be monitor for any policy riders in the final FY 2018 omnibus legislation that could undercut public health.

Check back on the blog for updates, and feel free to contact Assistant Director of Government Affairs Lindsey Horan if you have questions.

Federal Government Shuts Down After Senate Unable to Reach Deal

After weeks of negotiations, the Senate rejected a deal on a measure to keep the government funded after the January 19 deadline.

On January 18, the House had approved legislation to keep the government funded through February 16 and extend funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) through fiscal year (FY) 2023. Congress will reconvene today, January 20, to discuss a tentative deal on a continuing resolution (CR) that would keep the government funded through February 8, with an agreement to hold a vote prior to that date on the status of individuals enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

According to The Washington Post, Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said the conflict has a “really good chance” of being resolved before the government opens on Monday.

In advance of a shutdown, federal agencies have posted contingency staffing plans for a shutdown. Approximately half of the employees at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will be furloughed. Included in the operations that will continue, the National Institutes of Health “will continue patient care for current NIH Clinical Center patients, minimal support for ongoing protocols, animal care services to protect the care of NIH animals, and minimal staff to safeguard NIH facilities and infrastructure.” Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “will continue minimal support to protect the health and well-being of US citizens here and abroad through a significantly reduced capacity to respond to outbreak investigations, processing of laboratory samples, and maintaining the agency’s 24/7 emergency operations center.”  For more about how HHS may be affected, read more on the HHS contingency plan or from HealthLeaders Media.

In Lead-Up to Holidays, Congress Pushes Tax Reform and a New CR

With one day remaining before the current continuing resolution (CR) – the stopgap spending measure that keeps the government funded in the absence of regular appropriations – expires, Congress has been knee-deep in tax reform, health program funding and fiscal year 2018 spending discussions. Congress has now moved tax reform forward, but other issues still loom large.

Congress on Wednesday passed the sweeping Tax Cuts and Jobs Act to overhaul the U.S. tax code. The $1.5 trillion bill narrowly passed the Senate in a 51-48 vote and passed the House (for the second time to fix technical problems with the legislation) in a 224-201 vote. The bill is now with the president, who may sign the bill into law as early as today but will likely push enacting the bill until early January to postpone the automatic cuts it would trigger. (Read more on the statutory Pay-As-You-Go rule from Politico here.)

AADR remains concerned about how the net $1.5 trillion this bill is expected to add to the federal deficit over 10 years could undermine – and even jeopardize – non-defense discretionary programs, which encompass virtually everything outside of national defense and entitlement programs (education, scientific research, public health programs, infrastructure, etc.). Yet, in a positive move for the research community, the House and Senate during conference committee removed the House bill’s initial provision to treat as taxable income the tuition waivers provided to graduate students by universities in exchange for their teaching courses or conducting research while seeking graduate degrees. In the new bill tuition waivers, which benefit graduate students but are never received by the student as income, will not to be taxed and treated as income – as is current practice.

AADR was troubled about how that provision, among others, could impact higher education and our nation’s scientific advancement by burdening students pursuing or wishing to one day pursue advanced degrees. AADR spoke out against the bill’s potential implications for research, and so did our members. We would like to thank those of you who responded to our call to action and reached out to your elected officials, whether through our action alert or other mechanisms. Through AADR’s action alert portal alone, roughly 80 messages were sent to members of Congress. Your voice matters; the public outcry resulting in the removal of the graduate waiver tax provision in the final bill proves that.

With the tax bill now more or less off its agenda, Congress shifts its attention to reaching an agreement that will keep the government funded beyond tomorrow’s deadline.

Last night House Republicans released the text of a new CR, H.R. 1370, to keep the government funded through January 19, 2018. The bill, which replaces the previously proposed H.J. Res 124, would also extend funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), the National Health Service Corps and Community Health Centers, and it would waive statutory PAYGO requirements to prevent the automatic spending cuts triggered by the tax legislation’s enactment. However, as a way to pay for the public health program extensions, the CR also contains a provision to cut $750 million from the Prevention and Public Health Fund through fiscal year 2022. As a reminder, the Prevention Fund, which is regularly targeted in spending negotiations, accounts for roughly 12 percent of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention budget.

At this point, House Democrats say they will vote against the CR unless they get assurances that a final spending bill for fiscal year 2018 will provide parity between defense and non-defense spending and include a solution for Dreamers. Senate Democrats’ standing is unclear.

In sum, there is still much to negotiate in advance of tomorrow’s CR deadline. Continue to check AADR’s blog for updates.

UPDATE: On January 18, Congress voted to approve a CR to fund government operations through January 19 and includes a waiver of the PAYGO spending cuts. The bill provides temporary funding for CHIP and $550 million for community health centers that will is intended to last through March 31. The extension was partly paid for by the previously mentioned $750 million cut to the Prevention Fund, which will begin with a $100 million cut in FY 2019. 

Continuing Resolutions Will Likely Take Spending Talks into 2018

Last week, Congress approved and the president signed H.J. Res 123, a continuing resolution (CR) to fund the government through December 22. The CR, which avoids a shutdown and keeps federal programs operating at current levels, modified the expiration date of the previous CR set to expire on December 8. All of the previous CR provisions carry forward through December 22. After this date, another funding measure – either another CR or a spending bill funding the government for the remainder of fiscal year 2018 – will be needed. Despite the two-week buffer, there is already an expectation that a second CR into January will need to be passed to give lawmakers more time to complete their work.

These funding measures have implications for research and come into play as Republicans and Democrats negotiate longer-term deals over government funding, which include raising the defense and non-defense budget caps and passing an omnibus spending package for fiscal year 2018 appropriations.

By way of background, at the beginning of the fiscal year, October 1, 2017, spending limits on military and domestic programs came into effect as a result of 2011’s Budget Control Act. Consequently, if Congress wants to increase funding for defense and non-defense programs, lawmakers first need to pass a budget deal to lift the caps and then pass a spending bill containing the actual appropriations for fiscal year 2018 (e.g., funding for the Department of Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies). Importantly for the dental, oral and craniofacial research community, it is important to note that for the Senate’s proposed increases for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) to be realized, Congress will need to make a deal to raise the caps.

Congressional negotiators are currently considering a two-year budget deal to do just that – potentially raising the caps by more than $200 billion. However, Republicans and Democrats are working under different priorities. Republicans are looking to increase the defense budget – initially seeking a deal that would raise defense by $54 billion and non-defense by $37 billion in both fiscal 2018 and 2019 – and Democrats are seeking parity, proposing increasing defense and non-defense equally by $54 billion, a move that would raise the two-year cost above $200 billion.

In addition reaching consensus on top-line numbers and finding a solution for Democrats’ demand for parity, a number of challenges remain for the budget deal as negotiators look to it as a vehicle to pass other legislation, such as the reauthorization of the Children’s Health Insurance Program and a third emergency supplemental for communities affected by this year’s natural disasters.

According to CQ Roll Call, a GOP aide speculates that a budget agreement will be announced December 18, just a few days before the December 22 deadline to pass another funding measure.

AADR will be closely monitoring these developments over the coming weeks given their implications for research funding. Under a CR, NIH will be paying out grants at a lower rate than they would under regular appropriations (see a previous NIH CR notice here). Therefore, it is critical that Congress pass regular appropriations through the end of the year to provide stability for medical research.

If you have questions, please contact AADR’s Assistant Director of Government Affairs Lindsey Horan or continue to check the AADR Government Affairs and Science Policy Blog for updates.

Status Update: Fiscal Year 2018 Appropriations

Under regular order in the annual budget and appropriations process, the president would release the president’s budget submission in February and Congress would complete its budget resolution, which sets the top-line budget totals and divides spending into categories, by mid-April. However, as we have seen over the past several years, ‘regular order’ has become more of the exception than the rule as continuing resolutions (CRs) are passed to keep the government afloat (until budget deals can be reached), and appropriations deadlines are continually pushed back.

In this year’s case, the public didn’t see movement with respect to fiscal year 2018 budget resolutions until the House Budget Committee unveiled its budget blueprint in July and the Senate Budget Committee unveiled its version late last month. Among the biggest takeaways in both the House and Senate versions are the cuts to non-defense spending, which covers everything outside of the defense portfolio, including scientific research, education, etc.:

“The Senate’s resolution keeps defense spending at the budget cap levels outlined by the Budget Control Act. It hacks away at non-defense spending starting in 2019, cutting it by as much as $106 billion by 2027. The House, on the other hand, cuts into non-defense spending right away, but includes a $70 billion increase in defense spending in 2018 alone” (The Hill).

The full House narrowly passed its $4.1 trillion budget resolution last Thursday, October 5, creating a pathway through which members could pass tax reform via the budget reconciliation process. The full Senate is expected to consider its budget resolution in mid-October.

Drilling down further into fiscal 2018 spending, the House and Senate are also working to finalize their respective spending bills, including appropriations for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies (Labor-HHS). The House, which in mid-September voted along party lines to approve a package of 12 spending bills, is farther ahead in the process than the Senate, whose Labor-HHS bill for fiscal 2018 was approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee just last month.

Relevant for AADR members, the House and Senate bills call for a $1.1 and $2 billion increase, respectively, for the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The two spending bills also call for increases to the budget of the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR). The House bill provides roughly $432.36 million for NIDCR, and the Senate bill provides just under $439.74 million, compared with the fiscal 2017 level of $425.75 million.

The House and Senate bills will ultimately have to be reconciled, and in anticipation of the end of the fiscal year on September 30, lawmakers voted to extend 2017 spending levels until December 8, 2017 to give them more time to reach an agreement. However, it is not clear whether Congress and the White House will be able to make a deal by that time.

AADR will continue to keep its members apprised of the budget process and how developments unfold in the weeks to come.

Fiscal Year 2018 Resources:

Congress Approves Short-Term Funding Bill Averting Govt. Shutdown

Yesterday, Congress approved a short term continuing resolution (CR) averting a government shutdown and funding the federal government through December 9, 2016 at 0.5% funding level lower than fiscal year 2016. Importantly, the CR also includes $1.1 billion supplemental funding to combat the Zika virus. Included in the $1.1 billion for Zika is $397 million for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) to support advanced research and development of vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics.The Senate voted 72-26 and the House voted 342-85 in support of this legislation.

What is next? When Congress returns from the November elections a lot of unfinished business awaits them during the lame duck session. Congress must approve an appropriations bill that funds the federal government for the remainder of the fiscal year after the current CR expires on December 9th. AADR is strongly urging Congress to adopt an appropriations bill that provides increased funding for NIH and NIDCR.

How can you help? Please take a moment and send an email to your member of Congress stressing the importance of approving an omnibus appropriations bill by clicking here to access our action alert.

Dental Community Urges Congress to Support Funding for Oral Health Programs

This month, the American Dental Association (ADA), the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD), the American Dental Education Association (ADEA) and the American Association for Dental Research (AADR) sent  letters to the House and Senate Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Appropriations Subcommittees urging them to provide modest programmatic increases to allow more Americans to have access to better oral health.  The letter included a chart of funding priorities for oral health research and programs, including a request for Congress to provide $430.5 million for the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) in the final appropriation bill for fiscal year 2017. These organizations also noted the significant and detrimental impact a six month or year long continuing resolution would have on these programs and the populations they serve. ADA, AAPD, ADEA and AADR therefore urged Congress to approve an omnibus appropriation bill after the election.

Budget Update

This week Congress approved their budget resolutions by a 52-46 vote in the Senate and a 228-199 vote in the House. The budget resolutions essentially are a blueprint laying out Congressional priorities for the next year. The House and Senate will now develop a compromise agreement or conference report in the upcoming weeks. Unfortunately, both bills keep in place the sequester level caps on non-defense discretionary spending. Non-defense discretionary spending funds important components of the federal government including the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR). By adhering to the austere spending caps it will be virtually impossible for Congress to provide meaningful increases in funding for NIH in the upcoming fiscal year.

There may be a small glimmer of hope however, according to CQHealthbeat, “Some in the GOP see the House and Senate budgets as an opening bid in a likely negotiation with the White House later this year. Such talks would look for broader changes in the spending caps that many lawmakers argue should be raised both for defense and domestic programs.” AADR will continue to advocate on behalf of our members urging Congress to undo sequestration, raise the caps on non-defense discretionary spending and reinvest in biomedical research.

What is next? After Congress votes on the budget resolution conference report, the appropriations committees receive their funding allocations and will begin their work drafting appropriations bills. Historically, Congress will release the text of those bills in early summer.

AADR Supports the Accelerating Biomedical Research Act

Today, the American Association for Dental Research sent a letter in support of the Accelerating Biomedical Research Act (S. 2658).  Sponsored by Senator Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, this legislation creates a mechanism by which predictable, increased and sustainable funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) may be possible. AADR applauds this bill as an innovative approach to address the declining purchasing power of NIH and to prevent the further erosion of promising research.

However, since the funding levels dictated are still too low for other agencies and oral health programs AADR also strongly urges Congress to develop a long-term and permanent solution to replace sequestration for all non-defense discretionary spending.

AADR stands ready to work with the broader scientific community and Sen. Harkin to enact this legislation in the upcoming months.