Last week, the attention of the ASBMB public affairs office was focused on our Student/Postdoc Hill Day in which we took 19 students and postdocs along with 13 members of the ASBMB Public Affairs Advisory Committee to Capitol Hill to advocate on behalf of biological research. Now it’s time to catch up on some of last week’s Congressional actions.
The U.S. House and Senate passed H.R. 933, which will fund the government for the rest of fiscal 2013. As expected, H.R. 933 is a continuing resolution merged with a few appropriations bills that mostly maintains the cuts made by sequestration. Some scientific funding agencies fared better than others. The budget of the National Institutes of Health was held at the same level as FY12—$30.9 billion. Thus, sequestration will trim roughly 5 percent, or about $1.5 billion, from the NIH budget bringing the final appropriation down to $29.4 billion. An amendment to protect the NIH from sequestration was offered by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, but the measure failed. We are still awaiting word from the NIH on how these cuts will be implemented.
On the other hand, the National Science Foundation received a budget increase, thereby counteracting a portion of the cut from sequestration. The NSF’s $6.83 billion FY13 appropriation means that, to comply with sequestration, the agency needs to cut only 2.9 percent from its current programs. Thus, the NSF will not have to cut the 1,000 grants that it initially said it would. One troubling aspect of the spending bill is an amendment added by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla. This amendment prevents the NSF from funding political science research unless it is necessary for national security. While this amendment does not directly affect ASBMB members, the society opposes any form of Congressional micromanagement of funding agencies’ research portfolios.
Finally, early Sunday morning, the Senate passed a budget resolution for the first time in four years. As stated in previous posts, neither this nor the House’s budget will become law, and the vote is largely symbolic. However, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., along with Sens. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., and Ben Cardin, D-Md., sponsored an amendment that would allow Congress to increase the NIH budget as long as it was done in a deficit-neutral manner. The amendment received unanimous support. Again, this is only a symbolic vote, but it demonstrates the entire Senate supports increasing NIH funding.
The passage of these bills signals the end of the fiscal fireworks in Washington for the time being. Once Congress returns from recess, the appropriations process for FY14 will begin, and this probably will be the next best time to reverse the effects of sequestration and increase the NIH budget. We’ll keep you up to date on how this process unfolds.