BUDGET, APPROPRIATIONS, & TAX ISSUES
- President’s FY16 Budget Will Call for End to Sequester
- Associations Endorse Doggett Bill to Consolidate Higher Education Tax Benefits
- Members of Congress Introduce a Variety of Bills on Biomedical Research
- Senate HELP Committee Approves Education Research Bill
- AAU and APLU Comment on NIH’s Draft Policy on Single IRBs for Multi-site Research
- COGR and AAU Write to NIST on Controlled Unclassified Information
- CNSF Exhibition Scheduled for April 29
BUDGET, APPROPRIATIONS, & TAX ISSUES
PRESIDENT’S FY16 BUDGET WILL CALL FOR END TO SEQUESTER
The FY16 budget that President Obama will release formally on Monday will call for an end to sequestration and add $74 billion in discretionary spending above the FY16 mandated sequestration levels. The plan would fund defense discretionary spending at $561 billion, or $38 billion above its FY16 spending cap, and nondefense discretionary spending at $530 billion, or $37 billion above its FY16 cap.
The FY16 discretionary spending caps were enacted as part of the 2011 Budget Control Act (P.L. 112-25). While lawmakers raised the discretionary spending caps by $9 billion for each of FY14 and FY15, the tight caps are scheduled to return in FY16.
Among the President’s already-announced spending priorities, the budget will propose to make two years of community college education free, consolidate higher education tax breaks, and expand eligibility for Pell Grants.
For research, the Administration plans to launch a new initiative on precision medicine, which uses an individual’s specific genetic make-up in finding disease treatments. The White House has released programmatic details about the medical initiative, but details about how it would be funded—through existing funds or new spending—will not be available until the President’s budget is released on Monday.
The President will propose to pay for increased discretionary spending with still-unspecified budget cuts and with tax increases in such areas as capital gains and a new tax on large financial institutions, reports CQ.com. The White House has pulled back from the President’s previously announced proposal to eliminate tax breaks for 529 college savings plans, following a strong bipartisan outcry from Members of Congress and the public.
Several House and Senate Republicans have already said they support higher defense spending, but not higher domestic spending, says the publication.
ASSOCIATIONS ENDORSE DOGGETT BILL TO CONSOLIDATE HIGHER EDUCATION TAX BENEFITS
A group of 12 higher education associations, including AAU, sent a letter to Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) on January 27 endorsing his legislation to consolidate higher education tax benefits. Specifically, the bill would consolidate the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC) and the Lifetime Learning Credit into one simplified, permanent AOTC that will provide an annual benefit of $2,500 a year.
Unlike the Black-Davis bill and the proposal that President Obama is expected to offer in his FY16 budget, the Doggett bill has a $15,000 lifetime cap on the benefit rather than a cap on the number of years of eligibility. This is an important distinction for graduate students and nontraditional students who may take longer than four years to earn their degrees.
MEMBERS OF CONGRESS INTRODUCE A VARIETY OF BILLS ON BIOMEDICAL RESEARCH
In the past two weeks, members of the House and Senate have introduced a multitude of legislative proposals and bills related to biomedical research.
The lengthiest proposal was put forward by House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI), who has been working on a bipartisan effort with Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO) to accelerate medical innovation, known as the 21st Century Cures Initiative. The 400-page discussion draft released by Chairman Upton comprises a number of smaller bills and proposals primarily related to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). For NIH, these include proposals aimed at assisting young scientists, a call for NIH to develop a strategic plan and examine regulatory burden, and support for high risk, high reward research.
Although the discussion document was released without Democratic support, Rep. DeGette offered support for continuing the bipartisan effort; other Democrats criticized the proposal for not explicitly including additional funding for NIH.
In the Senate, Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN), working with Senator Richard Burr (R-NC), released a white paper largely paralleling the issues considered by the 21st Century Cures Initiative, titled, Innovation for Healthier Americans. According to Chairman Alexander, the paper “is beginning an inclusive and transparent process to… pass transformational legislation that the president can sign this year.”
Meanwhile, a number of bills have been introduced or proposed focused on innovative or alternative funding streams for NIH. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) has introduced the American Cures Act, which would increase NIH and other medical research agency budgets at a rate of GDP-indexed inflation plus five percent per year, paid for through adjustments of the budget caps.
Similarly, Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Brian Higgins (D-NY) have introduced the Accelerating Biomedical Research Act, which would make a budget cap adjustment to increase funding for NIH. The bill is bipartisan, with Rep. Peter King (R-NY) joining as an original co-sponsor.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has also introduced legislation to support additional NIH funding. But her bill, the Medical Innovation Act, has drawn criticism from the life science industry, because it would fund the increase through fines leveraged against blockbuster drug companies that have reached settlements with the federal government. Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) is expected to offer a House companion bill to the Warren legislation.
The prospect for any of these proposals moving forward is unclear.
SENATE HELP COMMITTEE APPROVES EDUCATION RESEARCH BILL
The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee on January 28 approved the Strengthening Education through Research Act, bipartisan legislation to reauthorize research programs at the Department of Education. The panel approved the bill (S. 227) last year, as well, but it was not approved by the full Senate.
The measure has strong support in the House, where it passed last year, reports Politico. House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN) said he expects Congress to approve the bill this year.
AAU AND APLU COMMENT ON NIH’S DRAFT POLICY ON SINGLE IRBS FOR MULTI-SITE RESEARCH
AAU and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) have submitted joint comments to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in response to the agency’s Draft Policy on the Use of a Single Institutional Review Board (IRB) for Multi-site Research.
The proposed policy would mandate the use of a single IRB of record for “all domestic sites of multi-site NIH-funded studies.” In their letter, AAU and APLU praise NIH’s intent to reduce the cost and regulatory burden associated with research involving human subjects, and endorse the principle of using a single or central IRB for multi-site research. However, the associations urge the agency to use caution in crafting and implementing the final policy, noting in particular that moving toward a single IRB of record takes a great deal of time and resources and “must not create an unfunded mandate” for institutions.
The letter strongly recommends that the agency consider the views submitted by individual research institutions that “have extensive experience with setting up and participating in central IRBs.” It is not clear when the final policy will be released.
COGR AND AAU WRITE TO NIST ON CONTROLLED UNCLASSIFIED INFORMATION
The Council on Governmental Relations (COGR) and AAU sent a letter to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) on January 16 regarding the agency’s draft guidance for federal agencies to use in protecting controlled unclassified information (CUI) in non-federal information systems and organizations.
The letter expresses concern that the draft NIST Special Publication 800-171 appears to contradict National Security Decision Directive 189 (NSDD-189), which states that to the maximum extent possible, the products of fundamental research should remain unrestricted, and that the mechanism for control of federally funded fundamental research is classification. The introduction of the NIST publication says that an example of CUI in contractor information systems is the conduct of basic or applied scientific research, which the letter says, “implies a basic misunderstanding of federal policy.”
Among other recommendations, the COGR-AAU letter asks that NIST clarify the definition of “federal information” and “federal information systems” in the document, and urges the agency to reiterate that if there is significant doubt about designating certain information as CUI, it will not be designated as such.
CNSF EXHIBITION SCHEDULED FOR APRIL 29
The 21st annual Coalition for National Science Funding (CNSF) exhibition and reception on Capitol Hill is scheduled for Wednesday, April 29. The event will be held 5:30-7:30 p.m. in B-338-340 Rayburn House Office Building.
Each year, the exhibition provides an opportunity for faculty and students from around the country to showcase their research and education projects funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). The event draws a large number of Members of Congress, congressional staff, and executive branch officials. Information about registering for an exhibit booth will be sent to CNSF members in the next few weeks.