In July, the Better Care Reconciliation Act failed on the Senate floor by a vote of 49-51. The House and Senate cleared and sent to the president legislation related to Congressional review of actions related to U.S. sanctions on Iran and Russia. The House approved the fiscal year 2018 National Defense Authorization Act and a security “minibus” that included fiscal year 2018 appropriations for the Departments of Defense, Energy and Homeland Security. The House departed for its August recess, while the Senate plans to stay in session for the first two weeks of August.
ACA Repeal and Reform fails in the Senate….What next?
In a dramatic early morning vote on July 28, the Senate by a vote of 49-51 defeated a stripped-down version of the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA), after several alternative versions were defeated as well. The final version voted on – dubbed the “skinny” repeal – was designed to try to find common ground with the Majority in the Senate to move the legislation into a House-Senate conference committee, where the more difficult final decision could be made about what type of health insurance systems should replace the Affordable Care Act.
The surprise, decisive vote came from Senator John McCain, R-Arizona, who returned to the Senate after brain surgery. Along with Senators Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, McCain voted against the bill to prevent a tie that would have been broken by Vice President Mike Pence.
What comes next for health care? No one really knows, but one option would be for the Majority to work with the Minority to attempt to develop a bipartisan approach that seeks to make changes to the ACA without actually repealing the law.
No Budget Resolution, but Appropriations Moves Forward
With only two months remaining in fiscal year 2017, Congress still has not approved a unified budget resolution. While the House Budget Committee was able to put together a draft resolution, no further action has been taken by the House or the Senate to move a resolution through Congress.
Nevertheless, both the House and Senate appropriations committees have been working to approve fiscal year 2018 appropriations bills, in an effort to move the process forward and prevent a government shutdown on September 30. The House Committee on Appropriations has approved all 12 of its appropriations bills, and the Senate Committee on Appropriations has approved seven of its 12 bills. On July 27, the House approved a security “minibus” that packaged together four of these bills: Defense, Military Construction/Veterans Affairs, Energy and Water, and Legislative Branch Appropriations.
While this represents significant progress, the House and Senate are using different funding allocations for each of their bills, meaning that they will be very difficult to reconcile. We will likely see a continuing resolution in late September that will buy more time and punt the difficult funding issues to later in the year!
Appropriations Committees advance funding for NSF
On July 13, the House Committee on Appropriations approved their version of the fiscal year 2018 Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) Appropriations Act. The bill funds the National Science Foundation (NSF) at $7.3 billion – $133 million below the fiscal year 2017 enacted level. However, NSF Research and Related Activities are funded at the current level of $6 billion. On July 27, the Senate Committee on Appropriations approved their version of the CJS Appropriations, but unlike the House, approved a reduction of $116 million to NSF Research and Related Activities.
Both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees sounding rejected the President’s proposed 11 percent cut for NSF. Unless significant changes are adopted through floor amendments, it is likely that funding for the Social, Behavioral and Economic (SBE) research directorate will remain largely unchanged in fiscal year 2018 from its current funding level of approximately $272 million.
…But Census funding still comes up short
In their version of the CJS bill, the Senate Committee on Appropriations also approved $1.521 billion for the U.S. Census Bureau. While this is slightly higher than the $1.507 billion provided for Census in the House bill, the amount included falls well short of levels needed to sufficiently ramp up for the 2020 decennial census. The Census Project has stated that the Census Bureau needs “at least $1.8 billion, in FY 2018, and possibly more, to maintain the quality of its programs and continue on a path to a fair and accurate 2020 Census.”
Open Access Legislation Re-Introduced in the House
On July 26, Representatives Mike Doyle, D-Pennsylvania, Kevin Yoder, R-Kansas, and Zoe Lofgren, D-California, reintroduced the “Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR).” This legislation would require federal agencies with annual extramural research budgets of $100 million or more to provide the public with online access to research manuscripts stemming from funded research no later than six months after publication in a peer-reviewed journal.
Versions of FASTR have been introduced in previous Congresses, but have never moved through the legislative process. The bills have been supported by Republicans and Democrats, but opposed by the Association of American Publishers.
In the News…
Lawmakers move closer to funding Trump’s border wall, worrying biologists trying to save endangered species | Science, July 28
Sci-Hub’s cache of pirated papers is so big, subscription journals are doomed, data analyst suggests. | Science, July 27
Social Science Lab Rats | Inside Higher Ed, July 26
John H. Thompson Appointed Executive Director of COPAFS | COPAFS press release
Upcoming Hearings and Briefings
There are no upcoming briefings or hearings, as Congress will be in recess for much of August.
Late Night Quotable
“Kid Rock has officially announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate. Kid Rock says he wants to restore America back to a better time when it would have been unimaginable for Kid Rock to run for the U.S. Senate.”
Conan O’Brien, July 13
“Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk claims he has gotten verbal approval to connect New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington with a high-speed train that runs in an airless tube. While the New York City subway just introduced brand-new rotary phones.”
Seth Myers, July 20
“Yesterday we were talking about how the Senate Republicans celebrated narrowly voting to open debate on their Obamacare repeal bill. Well, that victory is on life support already, because last night, their plan to replace Obamacare lost by 43-57. But don’t worry. They have a backup-backup-backup plan, the so-called ‘Skinny repeal,’ which I think is made with soy milk.”
Stephen Colbert, July 26