On October 16, Congress finally reached an agreement and the President signed legislation to end the budget impasse and fund federal agencies and programs – including the National Institutes of Health (NIH) – through mid-January. This followed a more than two-week federal government shutdown which occurred after Congress failed to pass a short-term continuing resolution (CR) to keep the government operating through the start of the new fiscal year that began October 1, because of a partisan battle over funding for the Affordable Care Act.
Under the bipartisan compromise, the government – including NIH – will be funded at current levels through January 15, 2014, and the nation’s debt limit will be extended through February 7, 2014. The Senate passed the deal by a vote of 81-18, with the House later passing the measure by a vote of 285-144. The bill was then immediately signed into law by President Obama, ending the shutdown.
While the October 16 deal reopened the federal government and avoided the immediate threat of default, it also sets the stage for even more contentious budget negotiations in the coming months. Although a provision requiring the creation of a bicameral budget committee to make recommendations about long-term spending (and possibly fix sequestration) before December 13 was ultimately dropped from the bill that passed Congress, congressional leaders have still agreed to work within this framework to reach a longer-term agreement. Most believe that this budget conference – and the ability for Congress to reach an agreement on long-term spending before the expiration of the new funding resolution on January 15 – will be the key to avoiding another potential shutdown.
The government shutdown significantly impacted the operations of most federal agencies, including the research done through the NIH. As a result, researchers already reeling from sequestration-related NIH budget cuts faced additional uncertainty, since NIH announced that during the shutdown it was unable to process grant applications or offer grantee support. Almost three-quarters of the NIH staff were furloughed and the agency had minimal support for ongoing protocols, animal care services to protect the health of research animals, and staff to safeguard NIH facilities and infrastructure.
During the shutdown and in the wake of negative press reports, the House Republican leadership decided to pursue a strategy to pass individual bills to fund federal agencies, including NIH, one-by-one, rather than approve a comprehensive CR covering the entire government. Senate Democrats, however, were united in opposition to the bills NIH and other individual agencies, with Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) vowing not to bring any of those measures to the floor for a vote. The White House issued a “Statement of Administration Policy” noting that President Obama would veto those bills if they reached his desk. NDD United and the Coalition for Health Funding (ASH is a member of both) also issued statements opposing the piecemeal approach to re-opening the government.
With the two parties remaining locked in a showdown over spending, additional cuts in funding for NIH remain a possibility. All Members of Congress need to hear from their constituents about the need to provide a balanced approach to deficit reduction that does not include further cuts to NIH and to recognize the value of biomedical research by adequately funding NIH. To contact your Representative and Senators quickly and easily, please use the email template offered online at www.hematology.org/takeaction. The Society encourages you to personalize the letter, providing examples of why NIH funding is important to you and your research and/or your patients.
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