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Labor-HHS spending bill readies for takeoff

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Illustration: Natalie Peeples/Axios

Text of the second minibus is likely to be released this weekend, with funding for the Department of Health and Human Services shaping up to be relatively flat or slightly above enacted levels, sources tell Axios.

Why it matters: The second piece of the government funding deal not only would lock in funding for federal health agencies but could also provide the last vehicle for health provisions until the lame duck session.

What they're saying: The four top Labor-HHS appropriators said while negotiations are ongoing and some details are still getting worked out, they are optimistic that text would be released over the weekend.

  • Senate Labor-HHS appropriations subcommittee Chair Tammy Baldwin was adamant that, "there will be no poison pill riders in the bill," adding the Labor-HHS bill's topline funding level was set and that lawmakers were in good shape to process the bills next week.
  • The subcommittee's top Republican Shelley Moore Capito told Axios that there were a few outstanding issues with policy riders but thought the bill "would be ready by the weekend."
  • Capito added funding levels would adhere to the Fiscal Responsibility Act, but wouldn't elaborate.
  • House Labor-HHS subcommittee Chair Robert Aderholt told Axios "everything's been cut a little bit," but expressed confidence that funding levels will be workable and that "most of the programs will be in good shape."
  • One issue that could trip up the minibus: Rep. Rosa DeLauro told reporters yesterday that while Labor-HHS was going well, the Homeland title in the six-bill package "was a little trickier," adding that having Defense and the Labor-HHS bundled into the funding deal would help pull it along.

Zoom in: While the lawmakers were mum on specific numbers, here's a reminder of what they're working with.

  • In the FY2023 omnibus, HHS got $115.4 billion in funding.
  • Meanwhile, the House and Senate had two very different numbers for FY2024 that were approved out of their respective appropriations subcommittees last year.
  • The Senate bill kept department funding more or less flat, at $117 billion, though it had increases for NIH, cancer programs and Alzheimer's research.
  • The House bill put HHS funding at $103.3 billion with deep cuts to the NIH, CDC and other agencies.

Between the lines: The bill allocates funds to the Title X program, which has been a lightning rod for the way it funds family planning measures and Planned Parenthood clinics.

  • The Biden administration argued in their latest budget that funding needed to increase in light of the current reproductive health landscape.
  • The Hyde amendment is likely to be kept as a compromise between the two parties.

What's next: There is a late effort to attach health policy changes on PBMs and price transparency to the package before the March 22 deadline — though it could be a long shot.

  • Senate Finance leaders Ron Wyden and Mike Crapo are trying to give the PBM initiative an extra push with a press conference tomorrow, as we reported yesterday.
  • The site neutral hospital payment reform efforts have long been the most challenging provision, and have less of a chance.

What we're watching: Any last minute hiccups on contentious health policy riders that could keep the minibus from moving uninterrupted.

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