The Republican leaders of the U.S. House of Representatives confirmed today that they will introduce a bill that will fund the government at fiscal 2013 levels, blunt the possibility of a debt-ceiling default and completely defund the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare. This bill is expected to pass the House but be defeated in the Senate, raising the possibility of a government shutdown on Oct. 1. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s take this expected bill piece by piece.
House leadership is expected to introduce a bill that funds the federal government under a continuing resolution. This will hold federal funding to $986.3 billion, which is the same level of funding as in FY13 after sequestration took effect. This level of funding for the government was expected to be a compromise between some Republicans, who want to cut federal spending to $967 billion, and many Democrats, who want to fund the government at $1.053 trillion. Support for this compromise has fallen sharply over the last few weeks as House Democrats have pledged that they would not support any CR that keeps sequestration intact and some Republicans were not interested in supporting a CR that funded President Obama’s health care law.
To win the support of the full Republican caucus, House leadership will include a provision in the CR that would defund the entire Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. This measure is not expected to pass the U.S. Senate and, even if it did, Obama has threatened to veto any bill that includes defunding the health-care law. In addition, a part of the CR bill will remove the specter of the U.S. defaulting on its debt obligations. This provision will direct the U.S. Treasury to make interest payments on the U.S. debt a priority, thereby paying the government’s creditors and eliminating the possibility of default. Other payments, like domestic spending, would be less of a priority, and may not even receive money if the Treasury has none left to give.
What does this mean for science funding? Given the near certain defeat of the House CR in the Senate, discussion about the Affordable Care Act usurps the much needed negotiating time needed to find a way to fund the government past the end of the federal fiscal year and avert a government shutdown. A shutdown would be detrimental to scientists across the nation as nonessential government activities would cease. All payments on federal grants would stop, grant applications would not be reviewed and all federal scientists would be sent home until the government resumes operation. The extent of the damage to the scientific enterprise will depend on how long the shutdown lasts, but even a short-term shutdown could have serious consequences for research.
Stay tuned to the Policy Blotter for the latest on the federal budget debate and how it affects scientists and science funding!
UPDATE: The U.S. House has passed a CR funding the government at $986 billion, maintaining sequestration, and defunding the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.