Congress is Back in Session for a Busy September

September 11, 2019

Congress returned to Washington, DC after a summer recess. Shortly before leaving town, Congress had passed an agreement to lift the unworkable budget caps put into place back in 2011, paving the way for a busy September.

The House has already passed 10 of the 12 appropriations bills. The Senate, on the other hand, had announced their plans to move four appropriations bills each week. The subcommittee scheduled mark-ups for Labor Health and Human Services (LHHS), the bill that provides funding to the National Institutes of Health and the Institute of Education Sciences. However, the scheduled time, 11:30 am on Tuesday, September 10th, came and went without a subcommittee hearing. The full committee initially scheduled for Thursday was also postponed until further notice with the hope that “lawmakers and staff can reach an agreement about what constitutes a ‘poison pill’ amendment.” A ‘poison pill’ is an amendment so controversial that it prevents a bill from getting the votes it needs to pass. In this case, the ‘pill’ is understood to be an amendment from Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) regarding Title X spending on family planning. This isn’t the only obstacle to passing a LHHS bill. Democrats are unhappy that the allocation for LHHS was a mere 1% increase.

The House is said to be working on a continuing resolution, a bill that will continue to fund the government at fiscal year 2019 levels past the end of the fiscal year 2020 on September 30th, through November or December.

The Senate’s Joint Economic Committee released a report, ‘Long-Term Trends in Deaths of Despair’, documenting the scale of increase of  ‘deaths of despair’ – doubling between 2000 and 2017, from 22.7 to 45.8 deaths of despair per 100,000. The report also charts trends in unhappiness, but points to the rise in drug deaths as more dramatic than those from suicide and alcohol, suggesting that addressing drug supply and quality is the best policy approach to preventing these deaths, rather than addressing mental health. The report is part of the Social Capital Project, a multi-year research activity investigating the nature, quality and importance of social relationships in communities, families, and workplaces.  

On the House side, the Science Committee held a hearing on September 10: Raising the Bar: Progress and Future Needs in Forensic Science.  While the witnesses focused on physical aspects of forensics such as bite marks and hair samples, FABBS scientists have important expertise on a range of issues from eyewitness identification to accuracy of memory and false confessions, as showcased in our PIBBS journal.