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Congress and White House Reach Two-Year Budget Agreement with Sequester Relief; Paves the Way for Increases to NIH in 2016

On October 28, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 1314, the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015, by a vote of 266-167. Two days later the Senate did the same by a vote of 64-35, and the President signed the agreement into law on November 2. 

This legislation: 
  • Increases discretionary spending by $80 billion over two years (Q: What is “discretionary” funding? A: All funds that must be appropriated year after year, including Defense, Education, NIH, etc.  It is different than “mandatory spending” - Social Security, Medicare, Debt Payments, etc).
  • Spreads relief "equally" between defense and nondefense (a big victory for social programs like NIH, CDC, etc, as Republicans were more focused on raising spending for Defense only)
  • Spreads relief over two years (FY 2016 and FY 2017), providing $80 billion in relief--$50 billion in FY 2016 and $30 billion in FY 2017.  It would also provide an additional $32 billion in Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funding for defense and nondefense security programs spread evenly between FY 2016 and FY 2017 (note: we’re working to get clarity on this)
  • Offsets the cost by including  a one-year extension of mandatory spending sequestration (kicking the can down the road), selling oil and airwaves spectrum, structural changes to Medicare and Social Security.
What does this mean for NIH and medical research?  It will provide appropriators with the ability to increase funding for NIH without having to make cuts to other programs - which had spurred a veto threat from the President. As background, under the sequestration caps, the scheduled annual cuts to the top line budget left appropriators with two choices: apply those cuts equally across the programs within their appropriations bills or make cuts to some programs to scale up others (NIH shares a bill with the rest of HHS, the Dept of Education, and the Dept of Labor). With the sequestration caps lifted, it’s no longer a zero sum game for appropriators and they can scale up some programs without harming others.

The immediate impact is that the Senate’s proposed $3B increase for NIH and the House’s $1B proposed increase will certainly be on the table – likely ending up somewhere in the middle when they conference the two bills together.  So all in all, imaging scientists may want to anticipate very favorable success rates for the final two cycles of FY16 (which started Oct 1), which will also be likely continue into FY17.

In other Congressional news, Paul Ryan was elected Speaker of the House on October 29. His election follows the resignation of former Speaker John Boehner. Representative Kevin McCarthy dropped out of the race to succeed Boehner earlier in the month, and Paul Ryan was able to overcome the opposition of members of the House Freedom Caucus and become Speaker. 

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