Congress Finishes Legislative Cake

The budget was supposed to be completed by last October 1, when the 2022 fiscal year officially began. But when it comes to excuses for not completing work, Congress is as expert at making excuses as it is at actually crafting a trillion-plus federal budget.

Much of the month’s long delay centered on whether the defense or domestic portions of the federal budget should get more money. As is often the case in Congress these days, it took combining multiple pieces of legislation to make the final package of bills something impossible to oppose. Think of it as a legislative layer cake, with some layers you like and others you don’t.

In the end, all of the individual funding bills were combined with important legislation to continue the national response to COVID-19, including additional COVID testing and monitoring, and emergency funding to support Ukraine.

Process aside, the news for the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) is good. The NIH budget will be increased to $45 billion, which is 5.3% or $2.25 billion more than the budget last year and represents a 45% increase in the NIH budget over the last seven years.

A health version of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), called ARPA-H, was one of the signature portions of President Biden’s Fiscal Year 2022 budget request and was also a topic in his recent State of the Union address. Congress has debated the creation of this agency for the last year. One of the major questions was where the new agency would be placed. Many, including the President, wanted it to be a part of the NIH. Others felt it would do better away from the NIH. There were even suggestions that it should be physically located outside of Washington, DC.

The final budget provides ARPA-H with $1 billion in funding and places the new agency under the direction of the Secretary of Health and Human Services. However, it also gives the Secretary the ability to transfer the new agency to any other place within HHS, including NIH, 30 days after the budget becomes law, as long as the Secretary gives Congress 15 days’ notice.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) will see a 4.17% or $354 million increase in its budget. Some were expecting a larger increase in the NSF budget to help fund proposals to add an additional directorate to the NSF. The NSF budget in its current form does not provide specific funding for the new directorate, but the bill does endorses its creation. There may still be additional funding coming the NSF’s way since Congress is considering specific legislation to create the directorate.

At the last minute, the cake almost fell apart. In the House of Representatives, Republicans insisted that additional COVID funding be paid for with federal funding states had not yet spent. When House Democrats saw how the new COVID programs were being funded, they revolted on the same day the House was supposed to pass the budget. They strongly opposed using money already provided to states to pay for additional COVID protections and threatened to vote against the budget. This forced House leadership to rewrite the bill and remove all funding for COVID.

But at least we finally have a federal budget.

About the Author:

Kevin M. Wilson serves as Director of Public Policy and Media Relations for The American Society for Cell Biology. He's worked as the Legislative Director for U.S. Congressman Robert Weygand (D-RI) and as a Legislative Assistant for U.S. Senator Claiborne Pell (D-RI). He has a BA in Politics and American Government from the Catholic University of America. Email: