Inside (the Beltway) Scoop
Created by host on 11/07/2013

By Jennifer Zeitzer 

Budget Conference Committee Holds First Meeting; FASEB Sends Letter to Budget Conferees; Appropriators Want an Agreement on Spending By Thanksgiving

On October 30, the budget conference committee established as part of the deal to end the government shutdown met for the first time revealing that there is little resolution among its members on how to address the variety of issues the group is charged with resolving. Democrats and Republicans will need to reach a compromise in order for the committee to agree on the fiscal year (FY) 2014 spending level by the December 13 deadline, which will allow the Appropriations Committee to complete work on the unfinished funding bills.

The meeting offered each of the 29 conferees an opportunity to deliver a five-minute opening statement, and most members used the time to outline their positions on spending, sequestration, and other budgetary matters. Despite conflicting opinions, the majority pledged to reach an agreement. Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-WA) said in her opening statement, “I agree with those who say the very least this conference should be able to do – the absolute minimum – is find a way to come together around replacing sequestration and setting a budget level for at least the short-term.” She further noted that “Sequestration is a terrible way to cut spending,” a sentiment partially echoed by Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI), who said, “Let’s focus our energy on the task at hand: a budget that cuts spending in a smarter way.”

Several members of the conference committee mentioned the impact of sequestration on funding for research and development, including Senators Chris Coons (D-DE), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Representatives Nita Lowey (D-NY) and James Clyburn (D-SC). Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) noted that three American Nobel Prize winners in physics were furloughed during the recent government shutdown.

While the idea of developing a plan to replace the sequestration cuts with other savings is popular, there is still no clear path forward to achieve this goal. Democrats on the committee mentioned raising additional revenue by closing tax loopholes, while some Republicans noted that they believe spending could be brought under control by making changes to entitlement programs. Others seemed reluctant to cancel sequestration, saying that it is critical to continue efforts to reduce the deficit by controlling spending. There was no other discussion following the opening statements, and the committee will not meet again until November 13.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) sent a letter to the budget conferees on October 31 encouraging their colleagues to follow Senator Murray’s lead.  The letter urged the committee to reach an agreement on the FY 2014 top-line spending level by November 22 (and no later than December 2) to give the appropriators enough time to complete work on the FY 2014 spending bills before the “continuing resolution” expires on January 15, 2014. The letter also asked the conference committee to set an overall spending level for FY 2015 in order to “avoid the situation we encountered this year, where the disparity between the House and Senate’s top-line numbers hindered progress on appropriations bills.”

Given what is at stake for the federal research agencies, the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) sent a letter to the conference committee urging its members to adopt a deficit reduction plan that cancels sequestration. The FASEB letter discussed the damage that has been done to research agency budgets as a result of flat-funding and the sequestration cuts. In addition, FASEB issued an e-action alert encouraging everyone in the research community to contact their members of Congress to express concern about how sequestration is affecting local research. A talk radio guideis also available for those who want to participate in call-in shows in their community.