House Appropriators Express Concerns About President’s Reliance on Mandatory Funding in the FY2017 Budget Request

House Appropriators Express Concerns about President’s Reliance on Mandatory Funding
In the FY2017 Budget Request

Legislative Update
February 26, 2016

On February 25 and during a week that included 21 appropriations hearings, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Sylvia Burwell testified before the House Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (LHHS) Appropriations Subcommittee about the President’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 budget request for her Department, which was submitted to Congress on February 9. A major issue was the budget’s reliance on mandatory funding, especially the $33.1 billion National Institutes of Health (NIH) budget that includes mandatory funding of $1.825 billion, reflecting $1 billion of that which was previously discretionary funding—essentially supplanting the discretionary base—and $825 million for new and existing trans-NIH initiatives, including the National Cancer Moonshot, Precision Medicine Initiative, and the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative.

Subcommittee Chairman Tom Cole (R-OK)

In his opening statement, Subcommittee Chairman Tom Cole (R-OK) stated:

“I was especially disappointed to see your proposed cut to the NIH. Your proposal to divert $1 billion of biomedical research funds to the mandatory side of the budget ledger and rely on new and, perhaps unlikely, authorizations to continue the advances that we have made in increasing research funding were disheartening. I look forward to having a discussion with you this morning on the impact of these proposed cuts.”

Full Appropriations Committee Chair Hal Rogers (R-KY) joined Chairman Cole in expressing his concerns, citing the budget request as “disingenuous” and “an illusion that it complies with the FY2017 budget framework.” Their Republican colleagues expressed similar sentiments, the most severe provided by Cong. Charlie Dent (R-PA) who called the proposal “completely unacceptable” for the NIH. Citing his concern for extramural researchers, he noted that the budget only assumes mandatory funding for one year, resulting in a “cliff” due to the switch away from discretionary funding.

Although Democratic members also expressed their concern about the budget request’s reliance on mandatory funding, they acknowledged that it was the result of austere budget caps and the reduced allocation for the LHHS bill.

Subcommittee Ranking Member Rosa DeLauro (D-CT)

Said Cong. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), the Subcommittee’s Ranking Member:

“If we had received a more proportional investment in the LHHS bill, we could have had more than $5 billion for our allocation that would allow us to do the important work within HHS.”

Cong. Barbara Lee (D-CA) echoed her concerns, adding that, “I want to remind people that the LHHS allocation is 10 percent below pre-sequester levels. This hampers our ability to address emerging health needs, and it is too bad.” Full Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Nita Lowey (D-NY) also weighed in stating that, “The substantial mandatory funding is of concern. Without it, the budget amounts to a decrease in discretionary funding of 1.5 percent.”

Commenting on the Democratic Subcommittee members’ complaints about the inadequate LHHS allocations, Chairman Cole commented that, “You have all twelve Subcommittee Chairs and their Ranking Members complaining that their allocations are too low, and in the case of the Defense, Interior, and LHHS bills, they are right.”

Secretary Burwell defended the President’s request and how it was structured to address priorities, which include the Zika virus, opioid abuse, Head Start, NIH, and the Affordable Care Act.

In a February 10 statement on the President’s budget request, NAEVR expressed its disappointment in its use of mandatory funding to supplant the discretionary base, especially at it relates to most of the Institutes and Centers (I/Cs) which are flat-funded, including the National Eye Institute (NEI). The President requests NEI funding at $708 million—the same as its FY2016 operating budget, which was reduced from its enacted level of $715.9 million due to pass-throughs. The flat-funding relies, however, on mandatory funding—without it, I/Cs would be funded at the level proposed in the President’s FY2016 budget request. For NEI, that would be $687 million. The budget proposal essentially reduces the discretionary funding base for I/Cs.

In FY2016, the NEI budget finally had minimal growth (0.8 percent) above its FY2012 funding level for the first time in four years after the devastating impact of the $36 million sequester cut in FY2013. That trend to rebuild the NEI budget must continue through an increase in the appropriated base for the Institute. As a result, NAEVR is urging Congress to appropriate at least $34.5 billion for NIH and $770 million for the NEI in FY2017, a 7.5 percent increase over FY2016 for each that reflects five percent real growth above the projected 2.5 percent rate of biomedical inflation.