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Congressional Action in September Critical To FY2012 Research Funding

Legislative Update
August 16, 2011

When Congress returns after Labor Day, it will resume the Fiscal Year (FY) 2012 appropriations process, specifically a House markup of a Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (LHHS) spending bill that includes NIH and NEI funding. In FY2011, the NIH and NEI had a one percent cut (for NEI, this was $6.2 million). President Obama’s budget proposes increases of 2.4 percent and 1.8 percent, respectively, for NIH and NEI over the FY2010 funding level (see accompanying chart).

The markup will be complicated due to implications of the Budget Control Act of 2011, which was passed by Congress on August 2 and raises the debt ceiling and imposes spending controls and cuts. NIH is a significant expenditure within the discretionary funding component of the LHHS spending bill, and the medical research community is especially concerned since the Act cuts this spending in FY2012 by about 0.5% (to $1.043 trillion) and enacts stringent caps through FY2021 that limit it from growing. However, the Act’s FY2012 discretionary spending ceiling is $24 billion higher than what the House previously enacted in its Budget Resolution. Although there is no guarantee that the House will revise upwards the allocations it has already made to each spending bill (six of eleven FY2012 spending bills have already been passed), medical research advocates are urging the House not to cut NIH funding in the LHHS bill markup, since the House’s initial LHHS allocation is already $18 billion below that of FY2011.

As NAEVR Legislative Counsel John Porter has stated, “Although the House Republican leadership doesn’t have to adjust upwards their lower spending levels, the $24 billion gap between the new and old discretionary spending ceiling creates room for advocates to lobby for reconsideration of any program facing serious cuts.” Porter added that, since the Democratic–led Senate has yet to act on any FY2012 appropriations bills, it could mark these up at the higher-allocated level, forcing the two chambers to conference their bills. He also observed that, since the Budget Control Act serves as a “super” FY2012 budget resolution, it may enable Congress to move more quickly in finalizing all FY2012 appropriations, although a Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund the government will be necessary when FY2012 begins on October 1, 2011. In the FY2011 appropriations cycle, funding was not finalized until the eighth and final CR was passed on April 14, 2011-seven months into the fiscal year.

During the critical September-October timeframe, the vision community is hosting a series of Congressional Briefings to educate Congress about the value of NEI-funded vision research, including:

  • September 13 Diabetic Retinopathy and Low Vision
  • September 21 Lifestyle and Age-Related Macular Degeneration
  • October 13 Cost-Effectiveness of Blindness Prevention
NAEVR will also work with ARVO to alert researchers at an appropriate time(s) to contact Congress, urging no cuts and seeking an NIH increase, especially to balance the FY2011 and the impact of biomedical inflation.