Budget Update

April 26, 2019

On Monday, Members of Congress will return to Washington, DC after a two-week recess – expect to see a flurry of appropriations activity.

The Labor, Health and Human Services (Labor-H) House Appropriations Subcommittee, with jurisdiction of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Institute for Education Sciences (IES), will meet on April 30 to mark up the NIH and IES budgets for fiscal year (FY) 2020. The full Appropriations Committee is scheduled to consider the Labor-H bill on May 8. Keep in mind, that FY 2019 was the first time in 22 years that the Labor-H bill was completed in time. Appropriations staff have said that pairing the Labor-H bill – also referred to as the ‘people’s bill’ – with the Defense bill led to the timely completion. There has been talk of using this strategy again. Starting with the biggest and possibly most controversial bill is a departure from the typical pattern of having the smallest and least controversial bills up first.

This is an ambitious timeline for any year, but particularly for this one. Not only are there many new Members of Congress and staff still learning about the ins and outs of the appropriations process, but the subcommittee does not yet have a 302(b) allocation, a top line budget amount for the subcommittee to spend. While the Appropriations Committee plans to set allocations for all 12 bills on May 8, Congress still needs to raise budget caps put in place by the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA). Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-NY) has indicated that she will assume a cap of $631 billion for nondefense discretionary spending, in contrast to the $543 billion cap in the BCA.

Members of Congress in both chambers and from both sides of the aisle have stated their intentions to raise the caps. Before leaving town for the Easter recess, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, (R-KY), said that reaching a spending caps deals is a top priority after the April recess and that he hopes to works with House Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to accomplish this goal. However, the final budget will need the signature of the President. The FY2020 budget proposed by the administration adhered to the BCA caps. To date, the White House has not been willing to discuss a plan to raise budget caps. Prior to the break, the House postponed action on a proposal to raise the BCA spending caps (H.R. 2021). Disagreement among Democrats over the relative levels of defense vs. non-defense spending led to the decision to hold off on a vote on the measure. 

As they have in years past, appropriators of both parties have made clear their plans to reject most of President Donald Trump’s proposed budget cuts. Those include a cut of $5 billion, or about 13 percent, of the $39.3 billion budget for the National Institutes of Health.

FABBS has joined our sister scientific societies urging Congress to raise the caps and expressing our support for federal agencies supporting behavioral and brain sciences. In addition, FABBS has submitted testimony to House Appropriations Subcommittees with jurisdiction over the NIH and IES and
National Science Foundation (NSF) and has been reaching out to individual offices requesting Members of Congress to communicate their support for strong funding for these agencies to their colleagues on the appropriations committees.

Congressional Dear Colleague letters

For a primer: US Federal Budget Process 101 (AAAS)