When Congress returns to Washington D.C. after Labor Day, it has only 12 working days to deal with several fiscal issues that must be addressed by the end of September – FY 2018 funding bills, raising the debt limit, increasing the budget caps, and disaster relief for Hurricane Harvey. This convergence of factors raises the likelihood of at least a short-term continuing resolution (CR) that would keep the government running while legislators finalized spending bills for the next fiscal year. However, the likelihood of a government shutdown increases daily.
Currently, the House of Representatives is expected to spend the first week of September voting on a legislative package that includes the remaining eight FY 2018 appropriations bills that were not passed before the summer break, including the one funding the National Institutes of Health (NIH). More than 900 amendments have been filed to date, but it is not clear which of those will get a vote. The eight-bill package is not likely to be considered by the Senate because it violates the Budget Control Act cap on defense spending, but this may instigate negotiations on raising the budget caps, an issue the Society supports.
Meanwhile, Senate appropriations committees have yet to pass their versions of the spending bills and President Trump has threatened to veto any spending bill that does not include funding for a border wall.
Congress is now expected to consider a “continuing resolution” (CR) to keep federal agencies operating beyond the end of FY 2017 on September 30. According to various congressional reports, the CR will likely run through mid-to-late December. The CR could also include funds to address damage in Texas and Louisiana related to Hurricane Harvey as well as language to increase the debt ceiling.
There is a great deal of speculation that congressional leaders want to combine the CR, debt ceiling, and hurricane relief issues into a single bill to decrease the likelihood of a government shutdown. Republican and Democratic leaders of the House and Senate are scheduled to meet with President Trump at the White House September 6 to see if they can agree on a measure to accomplish all these fiscal issues, but the outlook is far from clear. House and Senate Democrats are likely to announce that they will insist on putting hurricane relief funding in a standalone bill rather than including it in the CR; members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus have already objected to combining the stop-gap spending measure and the debt limit bill.
Take Action: The Society has visited Congress, submitted testimony, called on the House and Senate to increase NIH funding, and will be a sponsor of a Rally for Medical Research September 14 that will bring hundreds of research and patient advocates to Capitol Hill. But, given the uncertainty and conflicting priorities of various factions in the Congress, we need all our members to add their voices so that the Congress appreciates that a shutdown or long-term continuing resolution would hurt biomedical research and prevent our members from conducting lifesaving research.
To join your colleagues and make a difference, we have implemented a special advocacy campaign on the Society’s advocacy webpage. Please take one minute of your time to complete the online campaign and send a letter to your representative and Senators. (Our software will provide a draft letter and direct it to your Representative and Senators for you.) Only a robust response from the research community will ensure that Congress provides the NIH with the funds that the biomedical research enterprise desperately needs.