Health Center Federal Policy

Senate Appropriators File Bi-Partisan FY 2013 Continuing Resolution

The leaders of the Senate Appropriations Committee filed the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2013, which would fund the federal government for the remainder of the fiscal year at FY 2012 levels. The text of the bill can be viewed here. The Committee’s statement and summary can be viewed here. It expands on the House continuing resolution (CR) which, as you will recall from our last blog post, passed the House last week.

The Senate CR is broader than the House version and includes the full spending bills for Agriculture, Commerce-Justice-Science, Homeland Security, Military Construction-Veterans Affairs and Defense. It was introduced jointly by Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Ranking Member Richard Shelby (R-AL) and is consistent with the $1.043 trillion top-line discretionary spending level as mandated by the Budget Control Act of 2011. The Senate CR, like the House version, adheres to spending caps, which would reduce the top-line spending level from $1.043 trillion to $984 billion- decreased as a result of the bill passed New Year’s Eve to delay sequestration.

Under the Senate bill, Health Centers would be funded at the FY 2012 level on the discretionary side – $1.566 billion. As in the House-passed CR, the Senate does not rescind funding related to ACA and the mandatory funding available through the Health Center Fund for FY 2013 would be available – a total funding level of $3.1 billion.

The Senate measure also includes exceptions – or anomalies – to funding for the agencies in the “continuing resolution” portion of the bill. One critically important anomaly is one that originated in Chairman Tom Harkin’s (D-IA) Labor-HHS bill from the last Congress and it is of health centers’ top priorities: language requiring that all funds appropriated for the Health Centers program in FY 2013 be expended by September 30, thereby ensuring that the full $300 million in ACA funds be obligated before the end of the fiscal year. It also specifies that $48 million of those ACA funds be awarded for base grant adjustments. It was a huge victory for the health center grassroots to have these provisions included in the bipartisan CR under these especially tight budgetary circumstances and we are grateful to our Senate supporters on both sides of the aisle who worked to include this provision.

Senate consideration of the spending package began today and several amendments to the CR have been filed, including an amendment from Senator Harkin to include the full FY2013 Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies (LHHS) spending bill in the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2013. The amendment, like the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2013, ensures Health Centers will have access to nearly $3.1 billion in funding for FY2013 includes language requiring that all funds appropriated for the Health Centers program in FY2013 be expended by September 30th and also specifies that $48 million of those ACA funds be awarded for base grant adjustments.

Health Centers fair better when Congress thoughtfully deliberates legislation and especially annual spending bills. Congress has been unable to agree on an annual LHHS spending bill for the past few years. A full year spending bill offers certainty to Health Centers by assuring full year funding from Congress as opposed short-term CRs where possible mid-year funding changes could occur and impact grantees. The Health Center full appropriations request is included in both the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2013 and the Harkin Amendment. Senator Harkin’s amendment follows the tradition of regular order for Congressional consideration of the appropriations process and it also includes other important funding increases such as funding for the AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP).  We are also thankful for Senator Harkin’s efforts to ensure the Health Center Program can continue to provide access to primary care in existing and new medically underserved communities.

Debate on the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2013 could last a few days as several amendments will be offered before the Senate takes a final vote on the legislation and sends it back to the House. Once the House receives the bill, they will either take an up or down vote on final passage or enter into negotiations with the Senate to amend the legislation further. The current six-month CR expires March 27, though the House is scheduled to be in recess beginning March 22nd. There is not much time left for Congress to wrap up negotiations on the CR before the recess begins.