The outlook for federal science funding is looking a bit rosier than before. The Congressional budget conference committee appears to be making progress toward a deal on fiscal 2014 spending levels. The structure of a deal seems to be taking shape that would partially relieve sequestration through cuts to mandatory spending and increased federal revenues. Sequestration relief would be split evenly between defense and nondefense programs.
The potential deal is designed to appeal to members of both political parties. The proposed spending cuts will not come from programs like Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security, but rather from other mandatory spending like federal retirement programs. The revenue would come from increases in various federal fees, not due to any change in the tax code. The appeal of this deal is that Democrats could say they protected major mandatory spending programs and increased revenues while Republicans could say that they cut spending and prevented any tax hikes.
While the final deal is not in place, the federal spending level for FY14 is estimated to fall between $990 billion and $1 trillion. Spending for FY13 was $986 billion. Such a deal would mean that science funding agencies like the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation would not have their budgets cut in the next fiscal year. It is also possible these agencies may see a slight increase in their budgets. However, it is unlikely any funding increase would offset inflation, and these agencies will suffer a further decline in purchasing power.
Follow the ASBMB Policy Blotter for more on the progress of the work of the budget conference committee and other federal funding issues.