After months of delay, Congress will move forward this week on a final Fiscal Year 2017 funding measure. Congressional leadership and appropriators announced a deal late last night that sidesteps major partisan differences and provides strong funding, including a $2 billion increase for NIH. It is expected the House will take up the measure toward the middle of the week with Senate action following and White House approval before the May 5 expiration of current stopgap funding.
The omnibus FY17 bill is a significant accomplishment and offers important insight into how the Congress may navigate difficult fiscal issues going forward, although it will also be important to see how rank and file members respond to this deal in coming days. Because a full funding bill represents a more challenging task, many had feared that FY17 would ultimately be funded by a continuing resolution, but appropriators were determined to move legislation that expressed their priorities. The bill represents progress in many of the areas President Faust has identified as crucial to Harvard and higher education more broadly and reinforces the critical importance of the partnership between the federal government and universities in research and education.
Details of the omnibus in accounts that are priorities of the University are in the chart below. At the highest level, the omnibus met the statutory funding cap of $1.07 trillion but included additional off-budget funding of $93.5 billion for the Overseas Contingency Account (mainly war-related funding) and $8.1 billion in disaster aid. The legislation provided a portion of the Defense increase requested by President Trump, but did not adopt his proposed offsets in non-Defense areas. The bill also did not provide funding for the border wall, although does provide $1.5 billion of funding to improve border security. Negotiators also seemed to avoid controversial policy riders—such as eliminating funding for Planned Parenthood.
Passage of this legislation will finally clear the deck for Congressional consideration of the FY18 budget, along with other matters like health care and tax reform. Following on the release of the alarming FY18 “skinny” budget, the Trump Administration is expected to release its full FY18 budget proposal later in May. We anticipate these additional details will not be reassuring—with the fundamentals of a 20% cut to NIH, elimination of NEH, ARPA-E, and several student aid programs unchanged and likely further cuts to programs that were not specified in the “skinny” budget. Since November, the Congress has passed 21st Century Cures, included $352 million in dollars in NIH funding in the continuing resolution that just expired and now has added $2 billion. These actions, together with the immediate negative reaction on the Hill to the “skinny” budget are somewhat reassuring when looking ahead to how Congress will ultimately resolve FY18. However, there is a long way to go, and, at some point, there will be a reckoning between the widely divergent views of the new Administration and the bulk of the US Congress that supports spending both in Defense and non-Defense.
As the omnibus bill makes its way through the legislative process this week, we will remain closely engaged. As always, please feel free to reach out to Kevin Casey (firstname.lastname@example.org), Suzanne Day (email@example.com), and Jon Groteboer (firstname.lastname@example.org) with any questions or concerns.