Action on Spending Bills Awaits Congress After the Election

When Congress returns from recess in mid-November, lawmakers will have a full plate of legislative business to address before adjourning for the end of 113th Congress. The new Congress will be sworn in next January.

Among the most pressing items is completion of the appropriations process for fiscal year (FY) 2015. Although the new fiscal year began on 1 October, Congress has yet to enact any of the 12 bills that collectively fund the federal government. Unlike in 2013—when the federal government shutdown because lawmakers could not reach a deal on spending—this year Congress passed a stopgap measure to keep the government open through 11 December 2014.

Some Washington, DC insiders are hopeful that the House and Senate will be able to pass a catchall bill to set funding levels for FY 2015, rather than enact a longer Continuing Resolution that would hold programs at the FY 2014 funding level for a second year. This will likely depend on the outcome of the elections, as Republicans are predicted to gain control of the Senate. If the upper chamber changes hands next year, current Republican Senators may try to delay action on appropriations until their party is in the majority. Senator Ted Cruz and other conservatives have already tried to stall spending decisions during the lame-duck session.

The top lawmakers on the Senate and House Appropriations Committees remain hopeful that a comprehensive deal can be reached. Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) told staffers to use the congressional recess to resolve differences between House and Senate spending bills. Representative Harold Rogers (R-KY) compared the process to last year, once a budget deal was reached setting overall spending levels for FY 2014 and 2015. That bipartisan agreement facilitated the completion of the appropriations process for 2014 and has enabled each chamber to pass many 2015 appropriations bill out of committee.

Although the House and Senate legislation differs significantly for some agencies and programs, both chambers have adhered to an overall funding level of $1.014 trillion, an increase of less than $200 billion above FY 2014. Also notable is the top line spending for each appropriation bill. Four bills would allocate the same or near identical total amounts of funding in the House and Senate. Two other bills differ by only one percent.

Fights over proposed policy riders are anticipated, even when proposed spending levels are comparable between the chambers. Some bills have already been held up in the Senate because of threats to force votes on divisive amendments regarding environmental regulations and health care reform.

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President Obama Plans for Sequester Relief in 2016

The President’s budget request for fiscal year 2016 will likely include an increase for non-defense discretionary spending. This is the pot of money from which research and science education programs are funded.

According to the director of the White House Office of Management and Budget Shaun Donovan, “it’s absolutely critical on the non-defense side that we continue to make progress against sequestration, to relieve sequestration, to invest, whether it’s in infrastructure, in research and development, early childhood education, training.”

Sequestration is a federal policy that requires $1.2 trillion in spending cuts over a decade. Congress reached a deal in December 2013 to modestly reduce the amounts of sequestration in fiscal years 2014 and 2015.

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Feds Pause 'Gain-of-Function' Research on Pathogens

The Obama Administration will temporarily stop funding research that could make certain pathogens more dangerous while assessments are conducted about the potential risks and benefits of such ‘gain-of-function’ studies.

Gain-of-function research increases the pathogenicity or transmissibility of pathogens. The funding pause will apply to influenza, MERS, and SARS.

The government is encouraging scientists who are already conducting this type of research to voluntarily pause their work while the federal assessment occurs. The National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity and the National Research Council will consider the current practices regarding gain-of-function research.

Funding for this type of research will likely resume in 2015, according to the Office of Science and Technology Policy, once a federal policy is adopted.

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NSF to Offer Rapid Response Grants for Ebola-Related Research

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is inviting proposals for basic research to enhance understanding of Ebola and its spread; to design devices and processes to detect and protect against the virus; and to improve education and communication about preventative measures. Proposals will only be considered for non-medical, non-clinical care research.

The grants will be funded through the Rapid Response Research funding mechanism. This is the fourth time that NSF has funded time-sensitive research using this mechanism.

Learn more at http://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2015/nsf15006/nsf15006.jsp.

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Two Senior Level Vacancies at NSF

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is currently accepting applications for senior positions in the Directorate for Biological Sciences. The Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences and the Division of Integrative and Organismal Systems are both advertising on USA Jobs for new division directors. More information is available at https://www.usajobs.gov/GetJob/ViewDetails/383586800 and https://www.usajobs.gov/GetJob/ViewDetails/381033700.

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Become an Advocate for Science: Join the AIBS Legislative Action Center

Quick, free, easy, effective, impactful! Join the AIBS Legislative Action Center.

The Legislative Action Center is a one-stop shop for learning about and influencing science policy. Through the website, users can contact elected officials and sign-up to interact with lawmakers.

The website offers tools and resources to inform researchers about recent policy developments. The site also announces opportunities to serve on federal advisory boards and to comment on federal regulations.

This new tool is made possible through contributions from the Society for the Study of Evolution, Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography, and the Botanical Society of America.

AIBS and our partner organizations invite scientists and science educators to become policy advocates today. Simply go to policy.aibs.org to get started.

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