News from the Hill

Raise the caps one last time

Benjamin Corb
April 01, 2019

The National Institutes of Health has seen a recent funding boom reminiscent of a period in the late 1990s and early 2000s when the agency’s budget doubled. The NIH budget has increased by $9 billion since fiscal year 2015 (nearly 25 percent), and the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, along with other scientific societies, is calling for a continuation of this growth in the coming year’s budget.

Remarkably, the recent period of NIH budget increases has occurred at a time when legislative budget caps limit the federal government’s annual discretionary spending.

In 2011, in response to a ballooning federal debt and deficit, President Barack Obama formed a bipartisan super committee to develop fiscal policies that would restrain federal spending. The effort resulted in adoption of the Budget Control Act of 2011, or BCA, which limited both defense and nondefense discretionary spending for the next decade. The caps were intended to control spending and ensure limits on both Republican and Democratic priorities (defense spending and social safety net programs, respectively).

The defense community criticized these caps as draconian, and the U.S. Congress immediately began talking about eliminating — or raising — the caps on defense spending. In response, thousands of organizations representing constituencies supported by nondefense discretionary, or NDD, spending (investments in science, for example), started a coalition named NDD United. The ASBMB is a leader in NDD United, and I am a national co-chair. NDD United’s operations currently are managed by the ASBMB’s public affairs staff.

For eight years, NDD United successfully has lobbied Congress to raise spending caps on both defense and nondefense priorities. Thanks to the coalition’s Raise the Caps advocacy efforts, Congress has passed bipartisan budget agreements every two years for the past six years that resulted in steadily increasing nondefense discretionary caps.

The last budget agreement raised the caps for fiscal years 2018 and 2019. The caps from the original 2011 law are back for fiscal 2020 and 2021, and without a plan to raise them, continued increases to the NIH budget are at risk. Spending cap levels now in place for fiscal 2020 represent a $55 billion cut to nondefense discretionary spending from fiscal 2019 levels. This nearly 10 percent cut would be devastating for all domestic priorities, including investments at the NIH and National Science Foundation.

The NIH has benefited from the Raise the Caps effort. NDD United’s latest letter to Congress (sent in March) made the case for a discretionary caps increase, highlighting recent investments in the NIH budget. “Previous bipartisan budget deals have provided spending cap relief that has allowed Congress to more adequately fund services essential to Americans nationwide. For example, funding for biomedical research has grown, allowing scientists to conduct research and discover life-saving treatments and cures,” the letter states.

The ASBMB urges Congress to work toward a plan to raise the caps for the final two years of the BCA, allowing for sustained funding in priorities such as biomedical research. This deal would last through fiscal 2021 and end the threat of spending cuts that will be mandatory if the caps are not raised.

Benjamin Corb

Benjamin Corb is director of public affairs at ASBMB.

Join the ASBMB Today mailing list

Sign up to get updates on articles, interviews and events.

Latest in Policy

Policy highlights or most popular articles

Still unclear why university expelled 15 Chinese researchers
Blotter

Still unclear why university expelled 15 Chinese researchers

September 23, 2020

The University of North Texas has said only that the decision followed briefings by federal and local law enforcement.

ASBMB joins amicus brief
Blotter

ASBMB joins amicus brief

August 26, 2020

Society and other nonprofits raise concerns about racial profiling by federal investigators and prosecutors’ attempts to criminalize administrative errors.

Science-related legislation to watch
Blotter

Science-related legislation to watch

August 19, 2020

One bill would provide $26 billion in emergency funding for agencies that support research; another would protect against foreign influence in research.

We are here because we choose to be
Editorial

We are here because we choose to be

July 23, 2020

Five months into a pandemic with arguably the world’s worst response, the United States can no longer take the easy way out and blame only politics for our downfall. We’re to blame, too.

NSF foreign influence probes net nearly two dozen
Blotter

NSF foreign influence probes net nearly two dozen

July 15, 2020

Meanwhile, feds charge Ohio State researcher with fraud and drop theft charges against Emory professor.

U.S. seeks to kick out and ban foreign students
Blotter

U.S. seeks to kick out and ban foreign students

July 08, 2020

Harvard and MIT sue government to stop rule change targeting F-1 and M-1 visa holders at or heading to institutions offering only online courses this fall because of COVID-19.