Tuesday, 14 January 2014 13:12

Congress Stops Running with Scissors

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scissorsWith further sequestration cuts off the table
for FY2014, Congressional scissors hands are
learning to work well with others.
Photo credit: John Fleischman
"Mine!" being among the favorite words of five-year-olds, their parents find themselves remonstrating, over and over "You can't always have things your way." Apparently, this is a lesson lost on most members of Congress.

For the last few years, Congress has funded the operations of the federal government budget by using the "Mine" approach to negotiating. Now Congress has carved out the FY2014 NIH budget and while whining can be heard on and around Capitol Hill, things are not as bad as they could have been. Has Congress grown up? Okay, that would be going too far but observers of last year's non-stop Congressional tantrums are glad to see no one breaking toys or throwing furniture. So far.

During the same week that the long hallways of the New Orleans Convention Center rang with the cries of ASCB members bemoaning the wretched state of U.S. research funding, leaders of the House of Representatives and the Senate were experimenting with the idea of working together. The same week that the ASCB Annual Meeting wrapped up, Congress finally finished its federal budget blueprint, an accomplishment, no doubt, only it should have been completed months earlier.

The completion of the budget blueprint gave members of the House and Senate appropriations committees just under a month to draft the appropriations bills that actually provide the funding for federal agencies. As with the budget blueprint, this work was months behind schedule.

That blueprint, hammered out by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), chair of the House Budget Committee, and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), chair of the Senate Budget Committee, paved the way for a FY14 budget written by a larger, bipartisan, and bicameral group led by Rep. Harold Rogers (R-KY), chair of the House Appropriations Committee, and Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Was it painless? No, but it seems everyone worked together to resolve issues that would have previously sent them to the press conference barricades.

The results? Sequestration is off the table this year, avoiding an additional round of cuts to federal programs on top of the sequestration cuts from last year. For the NIH community, it means a budget increase of $1 billion more than last year's final after-sequestration budget. The FY14 NIH budget is now set at $29.9 billion. That number is still well below what it ought to be to protect the U.S. research enterprise but well above what it could have been if the sequestration knives were out again in FY2014.

This new "grown up" approach to budgeting comes at the start of a congressional election year. Perhaps the "me and mine" members were afraid the voters would put them in time out.

Kevin M. Wilson

Kevin is the Public Policy Director for American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB). Before joining the ASCB, Kevin served as Legislative Director for Congressman Bob Weygand (D-RI). Before joining Congressman Weygand's staff, Kevin worked for Senator Claiborne Pell (D-RI). Kevin is a graduate of the Catholic University of America.

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