Congress Extends Government Funding Through Dec. 9, Punts on Science-Related Legislation

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Today, the president signed a stopgap spending bill that extends current fiscal year funding for the federal government through Dec. 9. With Congress recessing at the end of this week to campaign for the general election, major science-related legislation will not see further movement earlier than mid-November.

In a vote of 342 to 85, the House yesterday evening sent a 10-week stopgap federal spending bill to President Obama for his signature. The Senate easily passed the same bill earlier in the day by a vote of 72 to 26 after House and Senate leaders reached agreement on the bill’s terms. The legislation was widely expected but was delayed for weeks over stalemates on emergency funding to address the Zika virus and the drinking water crises in Flint, Mich. and similarly-affected communities.

The bill, which is now law after President Obama signed it today, extends funding for the federal government at last year’s appropriated levels through Dec. 9, or 10 weeks beyond the end of the fiscal year. It includes the full fiscal year 2017 military construction and veteran’s affairs appropriations bill, but Congress will need the 10-week extension to complete action on the 11 remaining annual appropriations bills, including all the bills that fund the federal science agencies.

Before his chamber passed the bill, House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers (R-KY) said:

This short time frame will allow Congress to complete our annual appropriations work without jeopardizing important government functions. … It’s not perfect, but it ensures we meet our nation’s critical needs. … At this point, it is what we must do to fulfill our congressional responsibility, to keep the lights on in our government.

With Congress going into recess at the end of this week, its official work will not restart until after the Nov. 8 general election. Both chambers are expected to be back in session the week of Nov. 14. Congress will then have only three weeks to reach an agreement on funding for the rest of fiscal year 2017. 

The outcome that would be most similar to what has played out in recent years is a catch-all spending bill that combines all 11 of the remaining 12 appropriations bills, called an “omnibus.” Some of the more conservative members of the House have advocated delaying the approval of fiscal year 2017 spending into the new year, which would shift responsibility for reaching a final agreement to the next Congress and administration.

Meanwhile, Republican congressional leaders are backing another vehicle. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) has said the House will advance smaller appropriations packages called “minibuses,” and McConnell said today that he also supports that approach:

My preference is the same as the speaker, which would be to pass several minibuses if we could. I don’t like omnibuses and I don’t like [continuing resolutions] either. And the only other place you could go with this amount of limited time left would be several minibuses.

All eyes on the lame duck session in November and December

In its last six weeks before members adjourn for the holidays, the 114th Congress will also have to decide whether or not to move forward on several major science-related bills that have been advancing through the legislative process over the course of the last two years:

  • Energy policy bill. The House and Senate passed significantly different versions of an energy policy bill this year and are currently in conference to resolve differences. Conference committee chairman Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) is pushing hard for Congress to finish work on a bill the president will sign into law by the end of the year. FYI reported on the energy bill conference in FYI #108.
  • America COMPETES reauthorization bill. The House passed a controversial America COMPETES reauthorization bill last summer, while the Senate Commerce Committee approved a more bipartisan counterpart bill this summer. It is unclear if either chamber will take further action on the bill before the end of the year. FYI reported on the Senate bill in FYI #77 and FYI #78 and on the House’s passage of the bill in 2015 FYI #73.
  • NASA reauthorization bill. The House passed a NASA reauthorization bill in February 2015 that differs from a companion bill that the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee advanced last week. FYI reported on House passage of the bill in 2015 FYI #25.
  • National Defense Authorization Act. This summer, the House and Senate each passed their versions of this annual bill that accompanies the defense appropriations bill. Passing a final, conferenced bill before the end of the year is always a priority for congressional leadership. FYI reported on House passage of the bill in FYI #66 and Senate passage in FYI #83.
  • 21st Century Cures Act. Last year the House easily passed this bill, which would authorize billions of dollars in new mandatory spending for the National Institutes of Health, but comparable progress in the Senate has been stymied due to disagreements over the mandatory funding. Ryan and McConnell today both listed passing the bill among their top priorities for the lame duck session, so floor action in the House and Senate is expected.

As the amount of floor time available for major legislation ticks down to the end of the 114th Congress, the eyes of the scientific community’s leaders and advocates will be on what our elected leaders will do in November and December with respect to this legislation.

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