After weeks of jostling, the House of Representatives last Saturday passed H.R. 1, a continuing resolution that will fund the government through the end of FY 2011. The finalized spending bill, which is essentially identical to the version that was introduced on Feb. 11, totals $61 billion less than FY10 spending levels and is $100 billion lower than President Obama’s FY11 budget request.
In spite of impassioned work from advocates both within the scientific community and on Capitol Hill, science agencies did not escape the chopping block. The National Institutes of Health are set to lose $1.6 billion from their FY10 budget, while the National Science Foundation will lose $359 million. The impact of these cuts will be felt even more strongly in reality than on paper, since they will be taken from the remaining six months of the fiscal year rather than being retroactively prorated over the entire year. Therefore, agencies going forward will have significantly less money to award for grants than they do now, likely leading to rapidly shrinking paylines (which for some institutes have already sunk below 10 percent).
The bill now heads to the Senate, where the upper chamber will again attempt to finish the FY11 budget process. Last December, the then-Democratic lead House passed a year-long CR that would have held spending for all federal agencies at FY10 levels. However, the Senate decided to instead consider an omnibus bill that would have increased the overall funding level relative to FY10 and included specific increases for both the NIH and NSF. After failing to muster enough support for the omnibus bill in the Senate, Congress ended up passing the temporary CR that is now in place.
Senate Democrats have indicated that they will not support the House bill, and President Obama has also vowed to veto the bill in its current form. The threat of a government shutdown lingers if no compromise is reached, as the current CR that is running the government will expire on March 4. House Republicans have mentioned the possibility of yet another temporary CR being passed, in order to give Congress still more time to debate the issue.
ASBMB will continue to monitor the situation and provide updates.