Advocacy Update ~ September 11, 2017

This post was written by Danielle Heiberg, GHC Senior Advocacy Manager.

Last week, Congress returned from August recess and got to work, tackling not only the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey and the debt ceiling, but also appropriations for Fiscal Year (FY) 2018, which begins on October 1.

The legislation to provide disaster relief funds to those affected by Hurricane Harvey, includes a short term deal to raise the debt limit through December and a continuing resolution (CR) to keep the government open until December 8. In the Senate, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) had proposed an amendment to offset the funds needed for Hurricane Harvey relief by cutting from USAID funding. The Senate voted to table the amendment by 87-10, with the 10 no votes all cast by Republicans.

The Senate Appropriations Committee also took up the State and Foreign Operations (SFOPs) and Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (Labor-H) appropriations bills, which funds programs at NIH and CDC. Similar to the House, the Senate rejected President Trump’s budget that recommended drastic cuts to much of global health programs, and foreign assistance in general. The Committee recommended mostly flat funding for global health programs at USAID and the State Department, and recommended increased funding to TB and flat funding for Malaria by using unobligated funds from the Ebola Emergency Response fund. In the Labor-H bill, the Committee recommended increased funding for the Fogarty International Center (which was zeroed out in the President’s budget); increased funding for NIAID; and decreased funding for the Global Public Health Protection and Global Disease Detection in the Center for Global Health at CDC. See full funding chart below.

Of particular note in the SFOPs bill, was an amendment passed by the full committee to allocate “not less than” $585 million for bilateral family planning/reproductive health programs; repeals the Mexico City Policy (or Global Gag Rule); and mandates a U.S. contribute to UNFPA of $37.5 million. The amendment, introduced by Senator Jeanne Sheehan (D-NH), passed mostly along party lines, but with Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) voting no, and Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Susan Collins (R-ME) voting yes. As the House was voting on the floor on their version of the SFOPs bill, which contains language diametrically opposite to this amendment, the language will most likely be stripped out during final negotiations between the two chambers.

Also of significance is the strong language that the Committee inserted in the SFOPs report to blunt some of the actions taken by the Trump administration, especially in regards to the administration’s “redesign,” or reorganization plans, and the fear that the administration may simply not spend appropriated funds. The SFOPs report included language that the Committee feels that the President’s proposed International Affairs budget does not reflect “our increased attention to public safety and national security [that] sends a clear message to the world – a message of American strength and resolve.” The Committee also stressed that “diplomacy and development remain cost effective national security tools.”

In regards to reorganization, the Committee cited that their questions remain “largely unanswered” and is “concerned that the administration has a predetermined outcome for the reorganization or redesign.” The Committee included language that any reorganization plan is “subject to prior consultation and regular notification procedures.”

The Committee also included language reminding the administration of the Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974, which limits “the authority of the administration to reduce or withhold funding provided in law by action or inaction.”

Meanwhile, on the other side of Capitol Hill, the House began work on a minibus (or an “octobus” as some called it), to deal with the remaining eight appropriations bills, which includes SFOPs and Labor-H. The House voted on a number of amendments to the bill, but did not get to amendments for SFOPs until late Thursday. Of particular note, an amendment from Congressman Eliot Engel (D-NY) to increase funding to TB failed. An amendment in Labor-H offered by Congresswoman Claudia Tenney (R-NY) would cut $14 million from CDC global health to increase funding for community block grants is expected to be voted on this week. The House has an additional 400 amendments to vote on, before final passage of the minibus.

With the CR in place until early December, Congress has a few months to work out final numbers and language. However, it will be crunch time to pass the final FY18 bills and negotiate a new debt ceiling, coupled with a desire to return home for the holidays.

Appropriations Budget Table (as of September 2017)

* House: Includes $250 million from remaining Ebola response funds; Senate: Includes $100 million from remaining Ebola response funds
** Includes $20 million from remaining Ebola response funds;
*** Funding from remaining Ebola response funds; An additional $130 million reserve fund is also made available for “programs to prevent, prepare for, and respond to unanticipated and emerging health threats only if the Secretary of State determines and reports to the Committee that it is in the national interest to respond to such threats”
**** The International Organizations and Programs (IO&Ps) is zeroed out. The House recommended funding for UNICEF in the Global Health Programs account.