HHS waiting to hear what it can spend

A House committee would increase scientific research funding but decrease health centers' long-term funding. A Senate panel proposes just the opposite.

By Doug Trapp — Posted Oct. 17, 2011

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Even though the federal government is in fiscal year 2012, the Dept. of Health and Human Services doesn't yet know how much money it will have to spend during that time.

Neither the House nor the Senate has approved fiscal 2012 appropriations legislation for HHS. This means Congress is more likely to wrap HHS funding into a single bill to fund the entire federal government through the rest of fiscal 2012, said Jennifer Zeitzer, PhD, director of legislative relations for the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology.

"An omnibus bill is all but inevitable," she said.

President Obama on Oct. 5, four days after fiscal year 2012 began, signed legislation to fund the federal government through Nov. 18. The House on Oct. 5 and the Senate on Sept. 26 approved a short-term measure to fund the federal government at 1.5% below fiscal 2011 levels through the end date of the legislation. This reduction was mandated by the Budget Control Act of 2011, adopted in early August to allow an increase in the nation's debt ceiling.

The Budget Control Act also created the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, members of which are searching for at least $1.2 trillion in reductions to prevent automatic cuts to Medicare, defense spending and many other areas of the federal budget -- with certain exceptions. They face a Nov. 23 deadline to adopt a package of reductions. In turn, Congress faces a Dec. 23 deadline to approve any committee-adopted package.

Finding an HHS funding compromise could take time for leaders of the GOP-controlled House and Democratic-led Senate. Appropriations committee chairs in the two chambers proposed very different fiscal 2012 funding for the National Institutes of Health and community health centers, for example.

In a surprise, the GOP committee proposed more NIH funding. The research organization's appropriations would increase to $31.7 billion in fiscal 2012 -- $1 billion more than fiscal 2011 and the same level as Obama requested -- according to a draft fiscal 2012 HHS spending bill released Sept. 29 by House Appropriations Committee Chair Hal Rogers (R, Ky.).

"We're thrilled with the House-recommended levels for NIH," Zeitzer said.

Fiscal 2012 NIH funding would decrease by $190 million to reach $30.5 billion in a 2012 HHS funding measure adopted by the Senate Appropriations Committee on Sept. 21. That would follow a $300 million cut NIH suffered in 2011.

The House panel's bill would increase community health center funding by $1 billion in 2012 to reach $2.6 billion, but more than balance that by rescinding $1.2 trillion for future health center expansion in the health system reform law. That reduction would place more than 700 applications for new health centers and 1,100 applications for health center expansions on a waiting list, according to the National Assn. of Community Health Centers.

Health centers' funding would increase by $200 million in the Senate Appropriations Committee's HHS spending measure -- without tapping their expansion funding.

NACHC looks forward to working with the House and the Senate "to reconcile their respective bills as the appropriations process continues to assure that the program's base funding is restored and that some level of expansion funding is included in the final package," said Tom Van Coverden, NACHC's president and CEO.

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