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While Awaiting President’s Budget Request, Congress Advances COVID Relief

White House Budget Update

The first Monday of February has come and gone without a Presidential Budget Request for fiscal year (FY) 2022. This is fairly standard in the first year of a new administration, particularly one that is simultaneously managing other funding bills as well as significant procedural and leadership changes. In addition, White House officials say the work of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has been further delayed due to obstructionist behavior from outgoing political appointees during the presidential transition.

The Biden administration has yet to share an official timeline for sending the president’s first budget request to Congress. There is some speculation that the administration will release a “skinny budget” – a broad-brush preview of a full budget – in mid-March to be followed by a full presidential budget request in mid-May.

Covid Relief Package

Before turning to the annual appropriations process, Congress has been working on COVID-19 relief spending of roughly $1.9 trillion, with several committees advancing legislative proposals for inclusion in the final bill.

The House Committee on Education and Labor, under Chairman Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (VA-03), included a provision allocating $100 million to the Institute of Education Sciences to carry out research related to addressing learning loss caused by the coronavirus and disseminate those findings to State and local education agencies.

The House Science Committee, led by Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (D–TX), did not hold a hearing on how to allocate its $750 million share of the package, $600 million anticipated for the National Science Foundation (NSF). This amount is not specified in the relief bill, it has been reported by ScienceInsider. Terms of the relief package require agencies to use the set sum to help the nation recover from damage of the pandemic to the U.S. science and technology enterprise. New money to NSF, whose current budget is $8.2 billion, is likely to be spent on more research on pandemic-related topics, as well as more support for educating the next generation of scientists and engineers.  

The House is planning to take up its version of the COVID-19 reconciliation bill towards the end of the week of February 22. Assuming it passes, House and Senate leaders will then preconference any major issues and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) could put the House-passed bill on the Senate floor, where it would need a simple majority to pass.

It sounds increasingly likely that Senate Democrats will bring the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill straight to the Senate floor without any hearings or committee markups. This shortened timeline is being driven by the need to pass the legislation by March 14 when unemployment benefits expire. Republicans have expressed concerns about the process.

RISE Act

A second vehicle for federal funding for research relief is the Research Investment to Spark the Economy (RISE) Act to authorize nearly $25 billion in emergency funding to support U.S. researchers who have been impacted by the pandemic and to support the research enterprise in rebuilding from the effects of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The RISE Act was reintroduced this session by a bipartisan group of Members in the House and Senate  and includes the following funding levels for federal agencies supporting the behavioral and brain sciences.

  • NIH – $10 Billion
  • NSF – $ 3 Billion
  • IES – $200 Million

The Ad Hoc Group for Medical Research, of which FABBS is a member, issued a statement of support for the RISE Act introduction and to urge Congress to provide necessary pandemic relief in the next COVID-19 emergency funding package.

Looking Ahead at the FY22 Appropriations Process

The 50 -50 split in the Senate requires significant consideration and compromise both between and within parties. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) reached an agreement on an organizing resolution, which was approved by unanimous consent. The resolution allows Democrats to take control of the committees in the Senate, and Majority Leader Schumer has announced new committee assignments for his caucus. Here is a complete list of Senate Democratic committee memberships for the 117th Congress. Senate Appropriations Chair Patrick Leahy (D-VT) announced the full rosters, chairs, and Ranking Members of the twelve subcommittees responsible for apportioning annual discretionary spending.

Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) will serve as Chair of the Commerce-Justice-Science subcommittee and Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) will maintain her leadership role on the Labor-HHS-Education subcommittee while also serving as Chair of the Senate Health, Education, Pensions, and Investment (HELP) Committee.

After much debate and speculation, Democrats are expected to announce the return of earmarks to the appropriations process. The understanding is that earmarks may be requested by state and local governments and nonprofit organizations that perform “quasi-government functions.” The advocacy community has mixed feelings about earmarks. On the one hand, Members of Congress fight for funds that specifically benefit their constituents, while sometimes appropriate, there is also room for waste and fraud, consider the famous “bridge to nowhere” in Alaska. On the other hand, earmarks provide incentives for Members to work together to pass funding bills, raising hopes for a less fraught appropriations season.

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