What’s Ahead on the Hill
In this feature on Breakthroughs, we provide an update on what’s currently happening with global health in Congress and an outlook for future legislative activity.
As Congress starts the August recess, there have been a few developments in the fiscal year (FY) 2013 appropriations process, and both House and Senate committees have completed debate on nearly every account. Additionally, both the Administration and Congress have intensified their discussions about the upcoming sequestration cuts, and Congress has proposed continuing resolution to keep the government running at least until March. Below, we provide an overview of recent activity.
FY 2013 Appropriations
- In the past two weeks, the Senate appropriations committee approved its Department of Defense appropriations bill, funding the department at a level $5 billion below President Obama’s request. Language and funding was included in the bill to establish a Peer-Reviewed Medical Research Program, which will set research priorities across the defense department for certain conditions and diseases, including malaria, and the neglected tropical diseases dengue fever, and leishmaniasis. The program is funded at $50 million in the legislation. Additionally, another $50 million was allocated to the Joint Warfighter Medical Research Program, which would accelerate health research for solutions and treatments in projects that the defense department is already funding, including some priority diseases for global health.
- With the passage of this bill, the Senate appropriations committee completed its work on individual appropriations bills for the year. The only account it did not approve funding for was the Labor-HHS account, which includes funding for the National Institutes of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, both of which fund global health research programs.
- On the House side, the full House of Representatives passed its own legislation funding the Department of Defense, which its appropriations committee approved back in May. That legislation approves a funding level above the amount agreed to in last year’s Budget Control Act agreement. Eventually, the differences between the House and Senate versions of the defense legislation will have to be rectified to fund the department for FY 2013.
FY 2013 Continuing Resolution
- It’s been clear for a few months that Congress would not complete FY 2013 appropriations before the next fiscal year begins. In an interesting turn of events, Congress has agreed that it will need a Continuing Resolution (CR) in order to keep the government running into October and beyond, and members have already agreed on the terms of the CR, which will provide $1.047 trillion in discretionary spending. This will prevent further budget debates leading up to the presidential election, and takes one item off of Congress’ to-do list for the post-election session in November and December. Congress will write the agreement during August, and will vote on the deal in September.
- There are roughly 20 days left in the congressional calendar, given the election and upcoming recesses. When the Budget Control Act was passed, Congress was expected to develop a plan to reduce spending or face severe, automatic cuts starting January 2, 2013. As Congress has not been able to agree on an alternative and has very little time left to do so, in January these, roughly, 8.5 percent cuts will likely take place.However, since the CR will delay FY 2013 budget levels from actually being finalized until March, the rate of the cuts for the last part of the FY 2013 fiscal year (March 1-September 30) could be higher—possibly as high as 14 percent. This scenario is still months away, and is dependent on several factors, including an election that could change the Presidential administration and the leadership in Congress. A deal could still be reached that would delay or eliminate sequestration, although there is very little time left to do so.
New OMB Guidance
- Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Acting Director Jeffrey Zients recently sent a memo to department and agency heads with guidance on federal agency submissions for FY 2014. In the memo, Zients asked agencies to cut their bottom-line FY 2014 requests by 5 percent below spending levels appropriated for FY 2013. Zients sent another memo on July 31, informing agency leads of upcoming discussions on the implications of sequestration. Under current law, agencies are restricted in how much they can plan ahead of time for sequestrations. However, without an agreement from Congress on an alternative to the cuts, and with Congress’ insistence, the Administration has started to take steps to plan for the cuts.