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Senate to Tackle Federal Funding; Possible Modest Increases at NIH, NSF

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The US Senate this week plans to work on federal funding bills for the remainder of this year and for Fiscal Year 2014, including consideration of a plan that would provide an additional $71 million for the National Institutes of Health over the next six months.

The full Senate today will continue discussions over the continuing resolution (CR) budget to fund the federal government through Sept. 30. Under a previous agreement between Congress and the White House, that budget plan must pass by March 27 to avoid a government shutdown.

Since the beginning of FY 2013, which began Oct. 1, 2013, the government has been funded at the same level as 2012. While this Senate proposal would maintain that baseline spending level, it also would make adjustments that would enable research investments to receive modest increases.

All of the agencies funded under this CR would still be subject to the sequester, and so the relatively small increase of $71 million at NIH would not come close to offsetting the $1.5 billion cut that has already been enacted under sequestration. Included in this incremental funding boost for NIH is a requirement that the Institute of Medicine conduct a review of the National Children's Study, which aims to conduct genome sequencing and environmental, health, and lifestyle data analyses of 100,000 children.

Also under this CR, the National Science Foundation would receive an increase of $221 million over the FY 2012 level, which would enable NSF to make around 550 more grants, supporting as many as 7,000 more scientists, teachers, students and others, according to the bill summary.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology would see an increase of $43 million over the last budget.

The Senate voted down an amendment late last week that would have provided a more substantial boost of $221 million to NIH in the FY 2013 CR.

In addition to taking on FY 2013 funding, both the House of Representatives and the Senate are beginning discussions of their budget plans for FY 2014.

The House Budget Committee has released a long-term budget plan that seeks to eliminate the federal deficit over a 10-year period. Although that budget focuses on large non-discretionary spending programs such as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, and requires the repeal of President Obama's healthcare law, it also would likely require some cuts to discretionary spending and research and development, according to the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The White House has not embraced the House budget plan.

Without directly addressing the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, which the Obama Administration would be unlikely to support, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney last week responded to the budget plan, saying that while it "aims to reduce the deficit … the math doesn't add up."

He added that the plan "represents a series of policy choices that this President profoundly disagrees with."

The Senate Budget Committee passed its budget proposal for FY 2014 on March 14, proposing a long-term plan over 10 years for reducing the deficit. Although specific agency funding levels are not laid out in these plans, the Senate plan does propose increasing general science spending over the decade from around $29.6 billion in FY 2014 to $36.3 billion in FY 2023.

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