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Senate Budget Committee Votes Out Budget Resolution; Senate Floor Action Expected While House Budget Committee Begins Mark-Up

Legislative Update
March 8, 2004

On Thursday afternoon, March 4, the Senate Budget Committee passed its version of the FY2005 budget resolution by a vote of 12-10. This sets a discretionary spending total at $814 billion, which is $9 billion less than the President's budget request ($7 billion cut to defense spending and $2 billion cut in non-defense discretionary spending). Most importantly, the Senate resolution includes the NIH funding level at $28.7 billion, an increase of $764 million or 2.7% over FY2004?as proposed in the President's FY2005 budget. (There had been some discussion earlier about a freeze to all non-defense, non-homeland security discretionary spending). Senate Budget Committee Chair Nickles' "Chairman's Mark" specifically notes that the NIH total includes $1.7 billion in biodefense efforts, an increase of $121 million or 7.4%.

No specific NIH amendments were offered up in Committee.

The House Budget Committee is expected to begin mark-up on Wednesday, March 10, and proceed to House floor action the week of March 15. Although House Budget Committee Chair Nussle's "Chairman Mark" was not yet available, he has commented that it would trim $7 billion from President Bush's defense spending request and $2 billion from other discretionary spending, as well as freeze non defense, non-homeland discretionary spending at the FY2004 level.

Congressional leaders wish to pass a Budget Resolution by April 2, prior to the Easter recess. Hill and media sources advise that there will likely be a spirited debate in both Houses, especially about balancing spending with tax cuts to avoid increasing deficits. Even if a Budget Resolution is passed, Congress must work on the 13 appropriations bills before the October 1 election recess, otherwise facing the prospect of a Continuing Resolution to run the government until a "lame duck" session in early 2005.

On Friday, March 5, NAEVR made a series of visits to the offices of Budget and Appropriations leaders to support NIH/NEI funding increases, specifically $711 million for the NEI in FY2005, which would complete the doubling of its budget since FY1998 and bring it into parity with the budget-doubling that has already occurred from FY1998-FY2003 at the NIH overall and at specific Institutes. NEI currently ranks in the bottom one-third of all Institutes in terms of having its budget doubled.