Senate Releases its FY2020 LHHS Spending Bill with $3 B NIH Increase

On September 18, Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Richard Shelby (R-AL) released the first package of four Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 spending bills—Defense, Energy and Water, State-Foreign Operations, and Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (LHHS)—with the latter two not having been formally approved during respective Subcommittee markups. During floor action, the Senate initially considered H.R. 2740, the House’s version of the four-bill package, which it voted down. The Senate then considered its version of the four-bill package, which also was rejected. At issue are the top-line funding levels for the bills, with the Senate rejecting the higher House top-line funding levels, as well as its own members—primarily Democrats—rejecting the inclusion of transfers for Border Wall funding within top-line levels in its bills.

Due to the lack of movement in approving FY2020 funding bills, on September 19 the House passed a Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund the government when FY2020 begins on October 1. The CR, which will expire on November 21, is expected to be considered by the Senate during the week of September 23.  The President has signaled that he will sign the measure if passed.

The Senate version of the LHHS bill included in its four-bill package funds the National Institutes of Health (NIH) at $42.08 billion, a $3 billion or 7.7 percent increase. That appropriation includes $492 million in funding for the special initiatives (BRAIN, Cancer Moonshot, Precision Medicine, and Regenerative Medicine) authorized by Congress in the 21st Century Cures Act. By comparison, the House’s FY2020 LHHS bill increases NIH funding by $2 billion to $41.08 billion, inclusive of Cures funding.  

The Senate LHHS bill funds the National Eye Institute (NEI) at $840.2 million, a $43.7 million or 5.5 percent increase. By comparison, the House’s FY2020 LHHS bill increases NEI funding by $39 million to $835.5 million. In its Report Language, the Senate emphasizes that “every Institute and Center receives an increase above fiscal year 2019 to continue investments in innovative research that will advance fundamental knowledge and speed the development of new therapies, diagnostics, and preventive measures to improve the health of all Americans.”   

Since the 20 early-stage investigators participating in AEVR’s Fifth Annual Emerging Vision Scientists Day on Capitol Hill were engaged in NAEVR-hosted visits with their Congressional delegations on September 19, they urged Congress to finalize FY2020 appropriations and fund the NIH/NEI as robustly as possible––recognizing the Senate bill’s funding levels as a marker. They also emphasized the detrimental impact of a Continuing Resolution, which can result in delayed funding and could require an investigator to seek “bridge” funding to maintain the momentum of research.

NAEVR has issued a statement about the Senate’s proposed FY2020 NIH/NEI funding levels.