Smoke, mirrors and science funding ?>

Smoke, mirrors and science funding

The summer is an eventful time for federal appropriations. Subcommittees review their agency portfolios and assign spending levels, bills are marked up and passed on to the full appropriations committee and eventually these bills make it to the floor of the House or Senate for debate and final passage. The summer of 2013 has been no exception. However, the seemingly functioning appropriations work this year is a façade covering up a process that may soon come to a screeching halt.

Science funding agencies have fared well in the appropriations bills debated thus far. The National Science Foundation received $7.4 billion in the U.S. Senate fiscal 2014 appropriations bill and $7 billion from the U.S. House. Should these bills pass their respective houses, the Senate and House would meet to discuss a compromise bill, and the agency’s funding would probably end up somewhere in between the levels proposed by either house. The National Institutes of Health would receive $30.9 billion from the Senate FY14 appropriations bill. The House has not yet released its vision for the NIH although it is expected soon.

Despite the apparent support for appropriations increases for science funding agencies, the chances appear slim that any of these agencies will see a significant increase in FY14. First of all, the Senate spending goal is about $90 billion more than the House goal. This discrepancy in spending philosophy means that compromise on appropriations will be difficult. Furthermore, the House budget plan restores all Department of Defense funding lost due to sequestration at the expense of nondefense programs moving the two sides further apart. Finally, the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies appropriations bill, which sets funding for the NIH, is one of the most politically contentious bills as the funding for many social programs as well as the Affordable Care Act, or ObamaCare, are a part of this bill. Preliminary indications from the House appropriations committee suggest that all agencies covered by the Labor-HHS bill could see a nearly 20 percent cut. This is quite the contrast to the Senate’s 5 percent boost over FY13 post-sequestration spending.

What does all of this mean? The appropriations committees in each house may pass their full complement of FY14 spending bills; however a compromise may be nearly impossible due to the very different levels of spending each chamber will approve. Most likely, Congress will pass a continuing resolution, which would keep FY14 spending at FY13 levels. However, a CR comes with its own peril. Federal spending for FY13 will be $988 billion, but the maximum spending allowable under the Budget Control Act for FY14 is $967 billion. Thus, if Congress passes a continuing resolution, sequestration will again go into effect, cutting every federal program by roughly the same percentage to bring federal spending down to $967 billion.

With so much uncertainty in federal FY14 appropriations and only 15 Congressional working days left before the start of the next fiscal year, what is a scientist to do? Members of Congress will return home to their districts at the beginning of August for five weeks. During this time, you can schedule a meeting with your senators and representatives or their staff to have a discussion with them about the importance of sustained, predictable increases to the budgets of science funding agencies. If you want to get involved, ASBMB has the resources to make your meetings productive and successful. Follow this link to sign up now!

UPDATE: The House Labor-HHS appropriations committee had been scheduled to hold a hearing to release funding figures for the agencies under its jurisdiction on July 25. However, this hearing has been postponed indefinitely. This is another indication that the government will work under a CR for at least part of FY14.

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