Assessing the possibility of whether additional funding might be provided this year for the Department of Energy's Office of Science, National Science Foundation, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology's research programs is somewhat like reading tea leaves. A careful reading of statements made on Capitol Hill and by Bush Administration officials reveals that the possibility of such funding exists; determining the probability of that funding actually being provided is nearly impossible.
Of everything that has been said during the last few days, the most significant words were those of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) at a press conference last week. Speaker Pelosi was discussing a successful House vote to slow consideration of the Columbia Free Trade Agreement, described in one publication as perhaps the President's top legislative priority for the rest of his term. Pelosi said "the House took action today to reassert its authority to put, as a first priority for our country, addressing the economic insecurity of America's working families. We must focus first on the issue of jobs here at home."
Pelosi continued, "we have been asking the President for a long time for certain initiatives to be taken in a stimulus package or some other legislative vehicle to address the jobs issue here in America." Pelosi's key point regarding additional FY 2008 science funding followed: "So there are an array of initiatives that we would hope we can interest the Administration in. Some relate to a remedy for the issues that are a concern right now in terms of the mortgage crisis and unemployment. Others in good times or not so good times are good ideas, whether it's investing in our Innovation Agenda, a commitment to competitiveness to keep America number one, whether it is a commitment to rebuilding America through investments in our infrastructure, whether it is extending the tax credits for renewable energy resources, wind, solar and others."
Speaker Pelosi's reference to "our Innovation Agenda" refers to the Democratic leadership's plan first announced in 2005 to double funding for "the National Science Foundation, basic research in the physical sciences across all agencies, and collaborative research partnerships."
There are two primary vehicles for additional current year funding that could be used by the Democratic leadership: a supplemental funding bill to provide additional war funding, and what has recently been discussed, a second economic stimulus bill (the first stimulus bill being the one providing a check to most taxpayers in May.) Pelosi indicated her preference was for another stimulus bill that would have two features, the first to address the threat of further recession, the second for "what we need to grow our economy and I [Pelosi] mentioned some of those initiatives earlier." Later she said that the additional funding could be split between a stimulus bill and a supplemental bill.
The supplemental funding bill has a distinct advantage: it is a "must pass" bill because war fighting funds will run out. There is strong sentiment in many quarters on Capitol Hill to attach funding to this supplemental for other programs. There is also strong sentiment to keep additional non-war spending off this bill. One Administration official insisted that while the President would not budge from his $108 billion spending limit, the official also acknowledged that Congress could move funding around within the bill. Unknown is how much of its original request for war fighting money the Administration is willing to see shifted to other programs. One report calculates there could be $30 billion in congressional economic stimulus provisions in the supplemental bill.
Both the House and Senate are working on their versions of a supplemental bill. Earlier this week, a senior House leader indicated their bill could be on the House floor toward the end of April or the beginning of May.