With few changes from earlier Senate spending bill, ‘minibus’ goes to President Obama for signature.

The Senate and House of Representatives approved a $128.1 billion multi-agency portion of the fiscal year 2012 budget, or “minibus,” that will fund the FDA at about the level proposed by the Senate, fund NSF and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) at higher levels than either branch of Congress proposed, and cut funds for the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) in a dispute over engagement with China.

The bill heads to President Obama for signature. The Senate voted 70-30, about two hours after the House approved the minibus 298-121, with 165 Democrats and just 133 Republicans voting in favor. The House vote was unusual given its GOP majority and reflected unease among many of the chamber’s Republicans, who sought even deeper spending reductions.

The minibus combines three of the 12 appropriations bills that typically comprise the federal budget as well as a stopgap continuing resolution (CR) extending funding for the rest of the federal government through December 16. The current CR expires November 18, and this minibus was approved by the full Senate on November 1.

FDA will receive $2.497 billion in discretionary funding during FY ’12. This is just about what the Senate proposed but 15.4% above the $2.163 billion approved earlier this year by the House Appropriations committee. President Barack Obama proposed an increase of $234 million, or 11.6%, over FY 2011  to $2.7 billion.

In addition, the House and Senate set FDA user fee collections at $1.291 billion. The overall user fee number has shrunk 7.3% from the Senate’s $1.393 billion. Most of these user fees, or $702.17 million, will come from prescription drug makers. The total is up from $667.057 million appropriated for FY ’11.

Total FDA spending is up $134.188 million, or nearly 4%, from the $3.654 billion the House wanted but down $71.066 million, or 2%, from the $3.859 billion in the Senate’s minibus. Obama envisioned $4.3 billion in total spending for FDA, paced by an 11.6% increase in discretionary funding, to $2.7 billion.

Among FDA units affecting the life sciences:

  • The Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER) was approved for $347.817 million in FY 2012, $500,000 above the Senate plan and $1.9 million, or 0.5%, over the current fiscal year. Obama proposed a 5.9% hike for a total of $366.439 million. Those figures do not include CDER’s field activities, for which funding would dip 0.8% from $131.089 million in FY ’11 to $129.993 million, same as the Senate proposal.
  • The Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research (CBER) would receive $171.711 million in FY ’12, up $554,000 from $171.157 million for FY ’11.  Obama sought a nearly 7.4% hike to reach $183.775 million. Field activity funding would dip from $40.857 million to $40.513 million
  • The National Center for Toxicological Research (NCTR) would be funded at $60.039 million. This is the same as the Senate minibus but down almost $500,000 from $60.543 million, yet only slightly below Obama’s proposed $60.294 million.

NSF will receive $7 billion in FY ’12. This is $173 million, or 2.5%, above last year but $734 million, or 9.5%, below the President’s request. House previously proposed $6.86 billion and the Senate $6.698 billion for the NSF.

Most of NSF’s extra money, $155 million, will go toward the agency’s core basic research program, which will grow to $5.729 billion. The House proposed growing this segment by $43 million, to $5.607 billion, while the Senate cut $120.875 million, or 2%, from NSF’s research effort, leaving the agency with $5.443 billion for the purpose.

“Despite the tough fiscal times, the NSF increase is an affirmation that not only does the federal government has a role in funding science and technology but that it’s incredibly important right now as we struggle with economic recovery,” Jennifer Zeitzer, director of legislative relations for the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, told GEN.

Also to be funded at above-Congressional levels is NIST. The agency will receive $751 million under the minibus, $33 million above FY ’11. Both branches of Congress envisioned cuts for the agency: House Appropriations approved a $49.289 million, or 6.7%, cut, giving the agency about $700.8 million, while the full Senate cut NIST funding by $70 million, or 9.3%, from last fiscal year to $680 million.

NIST’s increase is intended to support the agency’s core scientific research programs. Funding for the Manufacturing Extension Partnership program, which provides training and technical assistance to U.S. manufacturers, is maintained at last year’s level of $128 million.

But the House got at least half the proverbial loaf when conferees approved a $4.5 million budget for the OSTP. That is nearly 10% below the $6.647 million in FY ’11, $1.5 million below the $6 million proposed by the Senate, but $1.5 million above the House’s $3 million budget for the agency.

The House also prevailed by inserting language into the minibus that prohibits OSTP from engaging in bilateral activities with China unless authorized by Congress. The stipulation reflects concerns of House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), who has long faulted China’s government for stealing U.S. industrial secrets and launching cyber attacks against the U.S.

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