How our federal budget can make kids the priority

Federal Budget


The Senate and House passed separate budget resolutions for Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 and are now expected to conference this week to come up with a concurrent budget resolution, which is expected to pass in time for the statutory deadline of April 15. From there, the Senate and House Appropriations Committees will determine 302(b) allocations for each subcommittee, which will then divide funding among the agencies within in their respective jurisdictions. First Focus would like to see Congress prioritize strong funding allocations for Appropriations subcommittees that impact children and families.

That is why First Focus signed a letter last week urging appropriators to restore the FY 2016 302(b) allocation for the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies appropriations subcommittee (Labor-HHS-Education) to at least the FY 2010 level of $163.6 billion. Because the House and Senate budget resolutions hold spending caps, a larger allocation for this particular subcommittee would help the chances of securing programs for agencies and programs that impact children or, in the current fiscal environment, preventing further cuts.

At this point in the appropriations process, discretionary health and education programs are competing for funding with all of the other nondefense discretionary programs within the spending caps established by the budget resolutions. Without a strong 302(b) allocation for Labor-HHS-Education, there is very little chance of increasing funding for children. And there is an even greater likelihood that they will be cut.

This cause received a boost when former House Majority Leader Cantor urged his former GOP colleagues to increase domestic spending on science and medical research, in exchange for getting buy- in from Democrats on increasing defense funding. This is in the wake of the budget resolution that the House passed and held steady the caps for this year and then included additional funding for defense and cuts to non-defense funding in the years to come. Cantor suggests that Republicans consider this a future investment citing benefits to innovation.

But First Focus would like to see this investment because of what it means for children. Thanks to research, children with life-threatening diseases such as cystic fibrosis, sickle cell disease, and diabetes now survive beyond childhood into their adult years.

Former Majority Leader Cantor could hardly disagree; he shepherded the Gabriella Miller Kids First Research Act (P.L. 113-94), enacted last year to prioritize pediatric research. Named for a child who died from a brain tumor, this law provided an additional $126 million over ten years for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the government’s biomedical research institute. Funded at approximately $30 billion annually, less than 1 percent of the budget, NIH is just one of the many agencies that will compete for funding in Labor-HHS-Education allocation. While NIH enjoys bipartisan support, it has been reduced by over $1.5 billion because of sequestration – leaving the agency to fund one in six grants applications for research that could make an impact on our children’s health, and it will not likely see an increase. Ultimately, cuts will delay progress on the detection, prevention, or treatments of conditions and diseases that are costly to society and affect millions of Americans, including children. Without strong funding, NIH will be forced to fund current research projects at existing or reduced levels, let alone pursue new initiatives like the precision medicine program. Proposed by President Obama this year, this new program proposes to gather health information and genetic data from one million Americans to help develop targeted medicines.

Strong funding the Labor-HHS-Education subcommittee would help alleviate the pain from these cuts. Action by the appropriations committees on 302(b) allocations will not be the end of the story for fiscal year 2016, it will be just the beginning. Democrats and Republicans anticipate a budget deal later in the year that would mirror the 2013 agreement reached by then-budget committee chairs Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) that increased spending caps for many programs impacting kids.  After all, the White House has said that President Obama would only accept increases in defense spending if they are matched equally by increases in domestic spending. That parity principle certainly lends itself to helping children, but we will need bipartisan cooperation to get there and we hope Cantor’s former colleagues in Congress are listening.

How our federal budget can make kids the priority: via @First_Focus Voices for Kids Blog #InvestInKids #DontCutKids
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Want to learn more? First Focus is a bipartisan advocacy organization dedicated to making children and families the priority in federal policy and budget decisions. Learn more about our work on the federal budget. 

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