Recess is over

and there’s still lots to do

Published September 01 2016

Members of Congress return from their August recess the week of Sept. 6 and will be in Washington, D.C., for four weeks before heading back to their home districts for the election season. The most important thing Congress must do during those four weeks is fund the federal government beyond the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. Under normal circumstances, Congress would have passed appropriations bills setting funding for the next fiscal year by now. But these are not normal circumstances. Not setting funding levels for fiscal year 2017 has consequences to our research community, especially for those investigators funded by the National Institutes of Health.

In early June, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved a funding proposal that would increase NIH funding for FY17 to $37 billion, a $2 billion increase over the previous year. In July, the House of Representatives approved its own funding proposal, which increased NIH funding by $1 billion for FY17. While we obviously would prefer a $2 billion increase over a $1 billion increase, it is clear that bipartisan, bicameral support exists to increase needed investments in research at the NIH. Unfortunately, time is running out for these proposals to navigate the legislative process, making the likelihood of a continuing resolution a near-certain outcome.

A continuing resolution, which funds the federal government at the previous year’s approved funding level, ensures that, at a minimum, the government has funds in place to continue with the status quo and avoids a government shutdown. However, continuing resolutions are generally bad for the scientific community. First, continuing resolutions, which can last anywhere from two weeks to a full year, freeze funding levels at agencies and leave them unable to plan properly for their next year. The NIH routinely has held down paylines while under a continuing resolution to ensure that it has the necessary funding to complete the fiscal year. The agency does this because it doesn’t know when or if the next year’s funds will be approved or exactly how much money the agency ultimately will have to invest. Congressional inaction literally can withhold from the research community millions, if not billions, of dollars. Every day that Congress delays passage of the FY17 spending bills, researchers don’t receive the funding needed to help improve the quality of life and well-being of Americans.

The scuttlebutt on Capitol Hill is that Congress will pass a short-term continuing resolution to fund the government through the November election. A short-term continuing resolution is common during an election year when the congressional calendars are limited due to campaign season. But the community of research advocates must continue to pressure Congress to take the necessary action to make increases in science funding not just bipartisan proposals but also bipartisan accomplishments.

Benjamin Corb Benjamin Corb is director of public affairs at ASBMB.