Senate Returns to Consider Adoption of the Consolidated Appropriations Bill Conference Report (HR2673)

Senate Returns to Consider Adoption of the Consolidated Appropriations Bill Conference Report (HR2673)

Legislative Update
January 19, 2004

Tomorrow, January 20, 2004, the Senate is scheduled to return for the Second Session of the 108 th Congress. The Senate session is to begin at 12 Noon, with a cloture vote (to limit debate) and a roll call vote currently scheduled for the Consolidated Appropriations bill (HR2673) Conference Report, which combines seven appropriations bill, including the Labor-Health and Human Services-Education bill that includes funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Eye Institute (NEI). The House, which also will resume session on January 20, had already approved the HR2673 Conference Report by a vote of 242-176 on December 8, 2003.

Various sources are reporting that there may be enough votes, especially by Democratic Senators, to avoid cloture and potentially have a protracted debate, primarily focusing on the non-appropriations policy/regulatory issues contained in the bill (e.g. media ownership, country of origin labeling, etc.). If the Senate fails to act, an option is a Continuing Resolution that would operate the affected portions of the government through the remainder of the FY2004 Fiscal Year (the current CR runs it through January 31, 2004).

This could mean spending levels at FY2003 levels in the affected portions of government – or in other words, the NIH would not receive the $1 billion increase nor would NEI receive the $24 million increase that are contained in the FY2004 Consolidated appropriations bill being considered by the Senate. Even worse, under this scenario, NIH’s net spending level in FY2004 would be LESS than FY2003 levels, since one-time expenditures for construction in the FY2003 budget could not be re-programmed for other purposes this year. Not only would this limit FY2004 medical research spending, especially for eye and vision research, it would also reduce the base upon which future spending increases would be calculated.

NAEVR has joined with close to 200 other organizations through the ad hoc Medical Research Funding Group in sending a letter to all Senators urging them to adopt the Conference Report to ensure the FY2004 funding increases for the NIH and its Institutes, such as the NEI. Each of these organizations is also calling upon its member organizations, as NAEVR has done, to send individual email letters to their Senators.

Last week, NAEVR’s leadership made Capitol Hill visits to Senate offices, as well as to the offices of the Senate and House Appropriations Committee and Subcommittee leadership. Later this week, a group of leaders from the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO), a founding member of NAEVR, will conduct more than 20 visits with Senate and House offices representing Georgia, Wisconsin, Missouri, and Arizona. This group will address FY2004 appropriations issues, as well as lay groundwork for the FY2005 appropriations process, as the President’s budget is expected the first week of February. An initial glimpse into the President’s priorities will be provided during the State of the Union Address, also scheduled for Tuesday, January 20.

Regarding the FY 2005 budget process, NAEVR is also a signatory on a letter to go to President Bush this week urging a 12% increase in FY2005 spending on the Public Health Service (including NIH), since unofficial word is that the budget may contain only up to a 2.5% increase in such spending. NAEVR is participating in this “Function 550 Coalition” (Function 550 refers to the section of the budget relating to health programs), as well as making its own contact with the Senate and House Budget Committees, to attempt to get a greater budget allocation, which will then be handed over to the appropriators. A Budget Resolution for FY2005 is expected by mid-April 2004.