House GOP slashes research, health reform funding

The tough negotiations expected with the Democratic-controlled Senate have some lawmakers predicting a government shutdown after funding expires March 4.

By David Glendinning — Posted March 1, 2011

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The House voted early Feb. 19 to cut more than $60 billion in federal spending for the remainder of fiscal 2011, including part of the funding designated to implement the national health system reform law. The resolution was adopted by a vote of 235-189.

Republicans held fast to their promises to reduce federal spending for the fiscal year, which must be resolved before Congress can start considering spending measures for fiscal 2012, which begins Oct. 1. Under a resolution enacted late last year, the federal government is funded at fiscal 2010 levels only through March 4.

The measure would reduce funding for the National Institutes of Health by 5.2% and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention by 21%, according to the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.

"Because of past federal investments, we are on the verge of making unprecedented progress in the prevention, detection and treatment of cancer in this country," said Christopher W. Hansen, the network's president. "But if federal cancer research funding is not sustained, the promise of recent discoveries may never become reality for people with cancer and their families."

Community health centers also would lose out on federal dollars under the House Republican spending measure. The National Assn. of Community Health Centers said that the resolution would appropriate $1.3 billion less for the facilities than requested by Obama last year in his fiscal 2011 budget request. The association estimates that reduction will translate into health centers losing the ability to care for 11 million patients over the next year.

"Fiscal responsibility may be the intent of the proposed cuts, but what they will accomplish is precisely the opposite," said Tom Van Coverden, the health center association's president and CEO. He said the proposal would prompt millions to seek nonemergency care at emergency departments and raise health costs by forcing many to forgo needed preventive care.

Under a set of GOP amendments approved for inclusion in the final measure, key funding for implementation of the health reform statute would be eliminated. Under the provisions, federal dollars would not be allowed to go toward paying federal workers or contractors to implement key elements of the reform law or enforce its new mandates, including a requirement that individuals obtain health coverage or pay tax penalties starting in 2014.

The fiscal 2011 spending measure heads next to the Senate, where Democratic leaders have vowed to roll back many of the House-approved cuts. Obama also has said he will veto any bill that cuts too much federal spending or immobilizes health reform implementation.

But if the House and Senate are unable to agree on a fiscal 2011 bill or another short-term funding extension by March 4, a federal government shutdown would occur. Medicare payments and other entitlement spending probably would continue amid a shutdown, but work stoppages for federal employees deemed nonessential could lead to delays in claims processing and payments. Other federal services would cease altogether until the situation is resolved.

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