Congress extends continuing resolution; approves funding for FDA
Last week, Congress sent President Obama the first installment of the 12 overdue fiscal year 2012 appropriations bills. Included in the spending package was the bill that funds the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the regulatory agency that is the nexus between new discoveries and cancer care. The bill provided a $50 million boost for the agency. Despite the increase for FDA the two chambers still remain deeply divided over funding for the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and its parent agency, the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
The FDA funding boost was contained in the agriculture appropriations bill, which was grouped into a three-bill “minibus” and signed into law by the president on November 18. The measure also contains a new continuing resolution that will keep the government funded through December 16, the new deadline Congress has imposed to reach consensus on FY2012 funding. Programs and agencies not funded by the legislation, including NIH and NCI, will continue operating under this continuing resolution at FY2011 levels while Congress tries to complete the remaining appropriations bills for FY2012.
The recently signed bill will provide FDA with $2.5 billion, which is $234 million less than the administration’s request, but $334 million more than the amount in the House-passed version and about $50 million more than FY2011. This amount does not included user fees. The $50 million is a welcome increase, but the additional money is largely earmarked for the implementation of a new food safety law and the advancement of medical countermeasures against bioterrorism attacks.
When it comes to funding for NIH and NCI, the two chambers remain far apart. Republican leaders in the House have embraced a draft proposal that would increase funding for NIH by 3.3 percent over current levels, and boost the NCI budget by 2.7 percent, while Democrats in the Senate voted to trim funds from these research entities. The House proposal, however, provides a number of stipulations about the actual number of new and competing grants that the NIH should be sustaining and supporting in 2012 as well as a formula for distribution of money between intramural and extramural programs. The Senate bill is free of these mandates.
The House bill also makes substantial cuts to other agencies, including the Department of Education and the Department of Labor, which congressional Democrats will find impossible to accept.
Tensions remain high, but neither party wants to repeat the FY2011 experience, where most appropriations were settled through a year-long continuing resolution. It is expected that ultimately, Congress will be able to wrap up the remaining nine appropriations bills in an omnibus package prior to the end of the calendar year.
Read more from the November edition of the AACR Cancer Policy Monitor: