Congress returned to Washington, D.C. this week following August recess with few legislative days to come to an agreement on Fiscal Year (FY) 2014 spending before the new fiscal year begins October 1. The appropriations process for FY 2014 has been complicated by sequestration, the across-the-board spending cuts that took effect in March, which will continue to impact federal spending each year until 2021 unless Congress acts to repeal or replace it. House leaders have drafted their appropriations bills (capping overall spending at $967 billion) under the assumption that sequestration will remain in 2014, while Senate leaders have proceeded with their bills (capping overall spending at $1.058 trillion) under the assumption that sequestration will no longer be in place, leaving the two chambers over $91 billion apart.
Short-term Continuing Resolution Likely
Given the very tight timeframe to find a longer term compromise on FY 2014 spending, Congress is working toward an agreement on a continuing resolution (CR) that will likely keep the government funded through mid-December. On September 10, House leaders unveiled a CR that sets discretionary spending, or federal funds that aren’t allocated for “mandatory” programs like Medicare and Social Security, at $986 billion, just slightly below current levels – but this measure has been put on hold over brewing policy disagreements. Some Members are fueling an effort to have the CR include strong provisions to defund the Affordable Care Act, while others are advocating for more immediate increased spending levels and the repeal of sequestration. House and Senate leaders began holding private talks on September 12, but if they fail to reach a deal in the coming weeks, the federal government will face the threat of a shutdown on October 1.
The Federal Debt Limit
Further complicating Congressional decisions on long-term FY 2014 funding is the looming expiration of the debt limit, which the federal government will likely reach in mid-October. The debt limit represents the federal government’s authority to borrow money and operate deficits. It was first extended earlier this year to give Congress and the Administration more time to work out a broader deal on deficit reduction, and another short-term increase seems likely again. How to address sequestration moving forward will likely be a subject of negotiation in debt limit talks as Republican leaders made clear this week that they will seek budget reforms as a condition for voting to raising the limit.
Outlook and Impact
If Congress moves forward with short-term strategies for spending and the debt limit, we may be subject to yet another year-end battle on federal funding and deficit reduction. The implications for policies and programs critical to the Parkinson’s community are immense. In this year alone, funding for the National Institutes of Health has been cut by over $1.5 billion. The Food and Drug Administration, which is responsible for evaluating new drugs and medical devices, has faced cuts over $209 million, including $85 million in private funding , resulting in the loss of key medical research grants and slowing drug and medical device review timelines. If sequestration is allowed to continue, the impact will be severe for these programs and others that benefit people with Parkinson’s and other chronic conditions.
PAN continues to advocate strongly for protecting federal funding for medical research, making the case to elected officials that the indiscriminate and unfair sequestration cuts are felt beyond a line item in the budget, potentially holding back innovation and critical breakthroughs for those who need them most.
Add Your Voice
Add your voice  to this important debate and tell your members of Congress to protect funding for medical research.
Date originally posted: September 13, 2013.