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DHHS to Cong. Markey: Sequestration Threatens Americans’ Health and Safety

Legislative Update
July 12, 2012

In a June 29 letter to Cong. Ed Markey (D-MA), Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Assistant Secretary for Financial Resources Ellen Murray stated that the deep nondefense discretionary spending cuts required by the looming sequestration would “have profound consequences on the Department’s ability to protect Americans’ health and safety and provide critical services to vulnerable populations” and that “the Administration believes that Congress should pass balanced deficit reduction legislation consistent with the President’s budget to avoid sequestration.” The DHHS letter responded to a June 7 letter from Cong. Markey to Secretary Sebelius requesting data on the impact of sequestration across all DHHS programs.

Among the examples cited by Ms. Murray as to the consequences of sequestration is the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) estimate that it could potentially eliminate 2,300 new and competing research projects due to reduced funding. NIH Director Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D. has gone on record with this number at the March 20 and 28 hearings of the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (LHHS) Appropriations Subcommittees of the House and Senate, respectively, and as recently as the June 21 hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has authorization/oversight jurisdiction over NIH. In describing this potentially “devastating” impact of sequestration, Dr. Collins emphasized that, since NIH has significant out-year commitments, the greatest impact would be on new grants.

The Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA) established caps on discretionary spending over ten years, resulting in $1 trillion in cuts spread across defense and nondefense discretionary (NDD) programs. The law also directed a Congressional Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction to identify an additional $1.2 trillion in budgetary savings over ten years. The failure of this bipartisan “Super Committee’ to agree on a deficit reduction plan triggered a sequester to take effect on January 2, 2013, unless Congress acts to delay or avoid it completely through other cuts or revenue-generating programs.

On April 16, the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) released its estimate of the impact of potential budget cuts on the NIH. Although the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has estimated cuts to NDD at 8.4 percent (up from its initial estimate of 7.8 percent), FASEB has estimated that cuts to the NIH extramural program could be as high as 11.1 percent, due to spending categories exempt from cuts in other agencies as well as within NIH.

On June 4, NAEVR participated in the first meeting of a new NDD Coalition, a group formed to oppose mandatory budget cuts and to ensure that NDD spending does not bear the full burden of sequestration. The NDD Coalition has garnered nearly 3,000 signatories on a letter planned to be sent to Congress today urging it to avoid the sequester. NAEVR and ARVO are signatories on that letter.