House Appropriations Committee Approves Increases to NSF Budget and Report Language

May 23, 2019

On May 22, the full House Appropriations Committee approved the fiscal year 2020 budget for Commerce, Justice, and Science. The final vote was 30 to 22 along partisan lines.

The House budget for NSF includes a record level $8.64 billion, an increase of $561.14 over the FY19 budget. While members from both parties expressed support for the work of the National Science Foundation and appreciation for the importance of US competitiveness, Ranking Member Granger stated her concerns about the top line budget amount as ‘unrealistic’ and not in line with the current ‘budget reality.’

House appropriation bills are accompanied by committee reports that contain more detailed guidance to departments and agencies. The NSF report included language of particular interest to FABBS members:

“Social, Behavioral, and Economic (SBE) Sciences.— The Committee supports SBE and recognizes the fundamental importance of its research for advancing our understanding of human behavior and its application to a wide range of human systems, including public health, national defense and security, education and learning, and the integration of human and machine. SBE funds over half of our nation’s university-based social and behavioral science research but remains the smallest of the NSF directorates. The Committee believes this research provides an evidence-based understanding of the human condition, resulting in more-informed policymaking and better-informed spending on a full range of national issues. The recommendation includes no less that the fiscal year 2019 level for SBE.”

The report for the NIH budget approved by the appropriations committee earlier this month included this language on primate research:

Intramural Non-Human Primate Research.The Committee has expressed concern since 2015 about the NIH’s intramural use of nonhuman primates in biomedical research. The Committee is especially concerned by a nearly 50 percent increase in NIH’s use of nonhuman primates in research involving pain and distress since fiscal year 2014. The Committee is encouraged, however, by the NIH’s January 2019 letter to Congress expressing support for the retirement of primates no longer needed for research. The Committee urges the NIH to accelerate efforts to reduce and replace the use of nonhuman primates with alternative research models and directs the NIH to provide a report to the Committee no later than 180 days after enactment that includes: (1) an overview of current NIH nonhuman primate use, including a table with summaries of all active projects, USDA pain categories, and their cost; (2) a detailed explanation of current NIH efforts to reduce and replace the use of primates in research with alternative methods; (3) an assessment of existing research technology not already in use by NIH to reduce and replace primate research and the feasibility of employing it to meet current and future research needs; (4) an assessment of areas where alternatives to primate research may not yet be available; (5) a detailed strategy and timeline for the reduction and replacement of NIH primate research with alternative research methods; and (6) standard operating procedures for the retirement of nonhuman primates no longer needed in research to suitable sanctuaries.

The American Brain Coalition, of which FABBS is a member, sent a letter to Senate Appropriators explaining the consequences of nonhuman primate language on brain research and urging the committee not to include the language in the Senate bill.

While the House and Senate are making quick progress moving the appropriations bills, the issue of the budget caps remains. Without a deal to raise spending caps imposed under a 2011 deficit reduction law, discretionary programs would have to be cut by about 10 percent, or $125 billion, in the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. That prospect would grind the appropriations process to a halt — and risk another government shutdown this fall.

Earlier this week, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) was uncharacteristically optimistic about a planned meeting of the congressional “four corners” — Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), and himself — with the White House to discuss FY 2020 spending levels and the debt limit. McConnell had been quoted suggesting that such a meeting might end in a bipartisan caps deal. Unfortunately, that did not happen, and prospects plummeted the following day when a meeting about infrastructure ended moments after it began. President Trump declared that he refuses to work with the Democrats on bipartisan policies, including an infrastructure plan, unless they cease their investigations.

Prior to this meeting, a coalition of 15 Science Coalitions representing 500 member organizations – including FABBS and FABBS societies – sent a letter urging the President and Congressional leaders to ‘begin negotiations and ultimately reach a bipartisan budget agreement to raise the defense and non-defense discretionary spending caps for FY 20 and 21 above the levels specified in the Budget Control Act (BCA).”