Research Is Off to a Good Start in House Labor-HHS Appropriations Bill

May 9, 2019

As expected, the House Appropriations Committee is moving quickly to mark up appropriations bills. Committee leadership, Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-NY), and Ranking Member Kay Granger (R-TX), have said they are determined to work together to avoid another government shutdown this fall. Lowey and Granger helped end the longest government shutdown in history, which they inherited after a spending standoff last year over Trump’s border wall.

Consistent with ambitious goals set earlier this year, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education released its FY2020 appropriations bill for subcommittee mark-up on April 30. The bill contains good news for the research community.

Several bill highlights of interest to FABBS members:

National Institutes of Health (NIH) – The bill provides a total of $41.1 billion for NIH, an increase of $2.0 billion above the FY2019 enacted level and $6.9 billion more than the President’s request. Within the NIH framework, the bill includes $411 million for the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative.

The budget report included the following language on page 108:

“Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research.—The OBSSR was established to coordinate and promote basic, clinical, and translational research in the behavioral and social sciences in support of the NIH mission. The Committee supports OBSSR’s activities aimed at strengthening these sciences by enhancing trans-NIH investments in longitudinal datasets, technology in support of behavior change, innovative research methodologies, and promoting the inclusion of behavioral and social sciences in initiatives at the NIH Institutes and Centers. In partnership with other Institutes and Centers, OBSSR co-funds highly-rated grants that the ICs cannot fund alone. While the NIH budget has grown in recent years, OBSSR funding has remained stagnant. Therefore, the Committee encourages NIH to provide OBSSR funding commensurate with increases given to the ICs.”

FABBS worked with colleagues at APA, PAA, and COSSA to include this report language.

Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) – The bill includes $358 million for AHRQ, an increase of $20 million above the FY2019 level.  This is a marked contrast from past years where the committee had tried to eliminate funding for AHRQ.

Institute of Education Sciences (IES) – Appropriators included $650 million for IES, a proposed increase of nearly $35 million over the FY 2019 enacted budget. (See page 208.)

You can watch the subcommittee’s deliberations here and find draft text of the bill here. A summary of the fiscal year 2020 Labor-HHS funding bill is here. The bill report is here.

Ranking Member Tom Cole (R-OK) said he did support some increases in the bill–including the increase for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) — but explained that he was unable to support the bill because the topline amount was unrealistic. He indicated that he and his Republican colleagues would have amendments in full committee. Reportedly, no Republicans voted for the bill.

On May 8, after a day-long mark-up and adopting six of the 17 amendments, the full House Appropriations Committee reported out the Labor-H bill on a vote of 30 – 23.

Assuming that the budget passes the full House, Democratic Leader Steny Hoyer (MD) has reserved June for floor action on appropriations bills. The Senate Labor-HHS subcommittee markup is expected to be held on June 4, with full committee markup to follow June 5. However, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby said he will not schedule any markups until a bipartisan budget deal to #RaiseTheCaps is reached. A Senate bill, whenever we see it, will then need to be reconciled with the House version. Finally, to become law, they must be signed by the President. While this first step is an encouraging sign for the research community, there is a lot of work to be done from here to there.

Also on May 8, the House Appropriations Committee adopted the 302 (b) allocations – the topline amount for each appropriations subcommittee. In the bill, the Labor, Health and Human Services Subcommittee would get a 6.6 percent increase from this year’s level. The Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) Appropriations Subcommittee, with jurisdiction over the National Science Foundation, would receive a 3.6 percent increase — keep in mind the demands of the Census Bureau budget in FY 2020 as the decennial census hits the field. The Office of Management and Budget has expressed concern about these 302(b) budget levels, particularly in the absence of a Caps deal, and the Senate is likely to put forward lower numbers.

Down the hall, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, Subcommittee on Research and Technology was reviewing the FY2020 budget request for the National Science Foundation. Chairwoman Haley Stevens (D-MI) and Ranking Member James Baird (R-IN) were joined by leadership of the full committee to welcome NSF Director France Cordova and Chair of the National Science Board Diane Souvaine to testify. Committee members expressed strong appreciation for the important role of NSF to support basic research. Members from both parties indicated a desire to fund NSF as a level higher than was suggested in the President’s budget proposal. In her opening comments Dr. Souvaine thanked the Committee and Congress for past support while emphasizing that there was ‘vastly more potential’ citing that in FY 2017, NSF was unable to fund $1.6 billion dollars in proposals rated ‘outstanding.’ Dr. Souvaine asked, “are we already losing out on the next Google?”

The CJS Subcommittee has not yet announced a mark up date, but rumors are it could be as soon as next week.