The recent removal of Representative Kevin McCarthy (R-CA20) as Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives made for great political theater and the search for a new Speaker may be equally dramatic. While the hourly media coverage of who the next Speaker might be can be more than anyone wants to hear, the biomedical research community should not completely ignore the search or the outcome.
Why should you care? The immediate problem facing Congress is passage of a federal budget for Fiscal Year 2024, which began on October 1, 2023. Included in the budget is funding for both the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) and the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH). While Congress negotiates a final budget, the federal government is currently being funded through a 45 day-long Continuing Resolution (CR) which extends the funding levels from Fiscal Year 2023.
Neither the House or Senate has passed final bills but draft bills suggest what each house might ultimately approve. The House Appropriations Committee makes significant cuts to the budgets of both the NIH and NSF. The proposed NIH budget for Fiscal Year 2024 would be cut by 9.1% and the NSF budget would be cut by 2.7%. Within the NIH budget, the NIGMS budget could be reduced by 2.6%, NCI could be cut by 2.9%, and the NIAID budget could be slashed by 22.9%. The budgets proposed by the Senate for each agency are better. The Senate would increase the NIH budget by 2.4% and the NSF by 4%.
Representative McCarthy’s efforts to pass fiscal bills to keep the federal government open led to his political demise. The Sisyphean task McCarthy faced was to develop bills that could pass the Republican-led House and the Democratic-led Senate and then be signed into law by a Democratic president. As a result of that process, a powerful fiscally conservative minority of the House Republican caucus lost support for him because he did not cut enough spending. At the same time, House Democrats no longer felt they could trust him as a negotiating partner.
The challenge facing the House Republican caucus as it searches for a new Speaker is to find a candidate who is conservative enough to be elected by their caucus yet moderate enough to be able to work with Democrats and develop legislation that can pass both houses of Congress and be signed into law.
The ability of the next speaker to find consensus across a wide portion of the ideological spectrum will be critical to keeping the government open and ensure appropriate funding for American biomedical science.
About the Author:
Kevin M. Wilson serves as Director of Public Policy and Media Relations for The American Society for Cell Biology. He's worked as the Legislative Director for U.S. Congressman Robert Weygand (D-RI) and as a Legislative Assistant for U.S. Senator Claiborne Pell (D-RI). He has a BA in Politics and American Government from the Catholic University of America. Email: email@example.com