June 13, 2019
On Wednesday, June 12, the House of Representatives began consideration of H.R. 2740, a bill to fund the National Institutes of Health and the Institute of Education Sciences, agencies important to behavioral and brain scientists. House deliberations are expected to continue into next week and to include a combination of delay tactics, grand standing, and shenanigans.
In a strategy that worked last year to complete budgets before the end of the fiscal year, appropriators have combined several appropriations bills to create a ‘minibus’. H.R. 2740 includes proposed 2020 budgets for Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, Defense, State, Foreign Operations, and Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act, 2020.
The bill contains important funding and provisions for brain and behavioral research including top line increases for NIH and IES. In the bill, the NIH receives a $2 billion increase with language requiring a 5 percent increase to all institutes and centers. Report language also expresses committee support for the Office of Behavioral and Social Science Research, as well as encouragement to include behavioral scientists on institute advisory councils (see article on NIMH and NICHD councils). However, report language that would eliminate intramural nonhuman primate research at NIH has raised concern in the broad scientific community. IES receives $670 million in the FY20 budget, over $615 in FY19.
The House Appropriations Committee has now approved all 12 appropriations bills and plans to consider additional minibuses by the end of June.
Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, has been quoted saying that he is optimistic that negotiators could reach a deal within the next week to raise the budget caps. Part of the hold-up has been the finding common ground with the White House. In the meantime, Chairman Shelby and SAC Ranking Member Patrick Leahy (D-VT) will continue discussing acceptable levels. With Congress on recess in August and the end of fiscal year 2019 on September 30, the Senate is feeling pressure to move their bills. While not official, there are rumors that the Senate Labor-HHS subcommittee will have a markup of their bill on June 25, followed by the full committee on June 27.
On top of to the need for an agreement to raise the spending caps, Congress will soon have to vote to raise the debt ceiling. In the absence of such a vote, the U.S government could face default. The U.S. could reach the debt ceiling as soon as this summer, according to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin.
In addition to considering appropriations bills, Congress has been busy advancing legislation of interest to FABBS members. Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Patty Murray (D-WA), chair and ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, shared bipartisan draft legislation that covers a range of healthcare and public health issues, including increasing efficiency and reducing costs, confronting rising maternal mortality rates, and addressing vaccine hesitancy. FABBS responded to a request for comments on the draft legislation.
On Wednesday, The House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology hosted a hearing focused on addressing andpreventing sexual harassment in the STEM fields, mainly in the setting of colleges and universities, in an effort to create a more welcoming environment for women to pursue STEM careers. The hearing’s witnesses included several leaders in higher education, including geologist and Boston University Provost Jean Morrison, and UC Davis Professor of Epidemiology Dr. Phillip Kass, who also serves as Vice-Provost for Academic Affairs. The group discussed their collaboration with lawmakers on Johnson’s bill H.R 36, which, if passed, would fund research on curbing workplace sexual harassment in STEM, mandate OSTP to institute mandatory reporting methods for federal science agencies, and create appropriate and clear response policies to federal grantees who engage in harassment. The bill has received bipartisan support. During the hearing, Chairwoman Johnson praised the NIH, NSF, and other scientific societies as “trailblazers in taking concrete actions and sending a clear message of zero tolerance” for harassment against women in STEM. FABBS is honored to be an inaugural member of the Societies Consortium on Sexual Harassment in STEMM.