Report from Capitol Hill

by Cara Tenenbaum

Pending federal budget cuts and Congress’ failure to pass appropriations for the fiscal year have advocates worried about the impact on cancer patients. Members of Congress have returned for 16 work days following the election. During these 16 days, Congress must pass a Farm Bill and address major legislative and policy overhauls, most notably the so-called “fiscal cliff.”

The phrase “fiscal cliff” refers to a series of tax increases and budget cuts that will take effect on New Year’s Day 2013. Also known as sequestration, the $1.2 billion in cuts are part of the Budget Control Act of 2011. That act created a Congressional Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction that was charged with reaching an agreement on the federal budget. The Committee failed to reach an agreement by late 2011, triggering automatic cuts of 7.6 to 9.6 percent to non-discretionary domestic spending.

Advocates are concerned that sequestration could affect cancer patients in several ways. Included in the spending cuts are reimbursements to Medicare providers (though not the program), funding for cancer research and funding for public health programs. Of concern is that such large cuts—estimated to total $450 million, or about 2,300 fewer grants—could have a major impact on cancer research. In fact, the Administration’s report on sequestration states that: “The National Institutes of Health would have to halt or curtail scientific research, including needed research into cancer and childhood diseases.”

The exact dollar amounts and effects of cuts are not yet known, and many hope that Congress will be able to avoid sequestration by passing additional legislation. However, with only 16 work days between the election and the end of the Congressional session—and a host of other issues demanding congressional action—it is far from certain that Congress will be able to address these problems.
In addition to the threat of sequestration, Congress again failed to pass appropriations bills, instead passing a Continuing Resolution that provides level funding to the federal government through March 27, 2013. Agencies that fund ovarian cancer research, such as the Department of Defense and National Cancer Institute, cannot be sure of their FY2013 appropriations until an appropriations bill is passed. Some advocates have expressed concern about what this uncertainty will mean for the full year’s activities.

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