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Making Sausage—NIH Style

Budget-making is like sausage-making: The product is hopefully tastier than the process. Photo by John Fleischman
Budget-making is like sausage-making: The product is hopefully tastier than the process. Photo by John Fleischman

Watching Congress craft legislation has often been compared to watching sausage being made. The product is more appetizing than the process.

Such was the case during the U.S. Senate’s debate on the FY14 Budget Resolution, a document that serves as an internal framework for the construction of the individual appropriations bills that fund the government. On Wednesday of last week (March 20), we learned that Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS), a champion of the NIH, would be introducing an amendment to the Budget Resolution to make it easier for the FY14 NIH budget to be increased by as much as $1.4 billion. The budget resolution is a statement that Congress makes on budget priorities to guide appropriators in their decisions. Although it does not become a law, it is an important part of the federal budget process. For the first time in a while, we saw a specific request to significantly increase the NIH budget. So, ASCB members across the United States ran to their phones, asking their senators to support the Moran amendment.

Then on Friday morning, word came from Capitol Hill that Senator Moran and Senator Richard Durbin (D-Ill) had joined forces, along with Senate Appropriations Committee chair Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and others, to introduce a compromise amendment. The Durbin-Moran amendment was not as proscriptive and would, therefore, give the appropriators “more room”—Hill-speak for letting them make the decisions instead of being bound by an amendment. In a time of tight budgets, letting them decide may not be the best thing for the NIH.

Friday morning became Friday night, which soon turned into the wee hours of Saturday morning. The Senate talked and talked and voted and voted. At about 4:30 Saturday morning, it only took three sentences to adopt the amendment, and without a roll call or voice vote.

It now remains to be seen what the members of the Senate Appropriations Committee will do with this “room” they have been given to provide the NIH with a bigger budget. It also remains to be seen what this sausage will taste like.

—Kevin Wilson

Created on Tuesday, March 26, 2013

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