President Obama signed a bill last week to continue funding for almost all federal programs at FY 2010 levels until March 4, 2011. This action was taken because the current Congress could not reach agreement about FY 2011 spending, putting off final decisions about appropriations bills until after the new Congress convenes. In looking ahead to what are expected to be contentious funding debates, the President reiterated his support for science and technology.
Two plans to finish the FY 2011 appropriations cycle failed. The first option was a House-passed bill that would have continued current FY 2010 spending until September 30, 2011.
The second option was an almost 2,000 page omnibus bill drafted by Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-HI) and Ranking Member Thad Cochran (R-MS) that was a compilation of the twelve appropriations bills. The bill was never considered on the Senate floor, in part because of objections that it included $8 billion for over 6,000 earmarks.
With time running out, Congress approved a new Continuing Resolution that provides funding at current spending levels through March 4. The 14-page law contains 21 changes or “anomalies” from existing legislation. One of the most significant is an increase of $624 million for the National Nuclear Security Administration and its activities related to the New START treaty that was ratified by the Senate last week.
Cochran released a statement on this Continuing Resolution, saying “The fact that we are again fighting a year-end battle over how to fund the government is extremely disappointing to me . . . . While it is our only option at this point, a continuing resolution is not the best means of funding government operations. It is an inefficient mechanism and will constrain the Defense Department and other agencies in carrying out their missions. Continuing resolutions also deny Congress the kind of thoughtful oversight and detailed guidance that regular appropriations bills provide.”
Cochran looked ahead to 2011 in this statement, adding “I hope that those who opposed how the omnibus bill was crafted and presented will work with me and Chairman Inouye in the next Congress to find a way to consider the appropriations bills individually and in a timely manner.”While eleven of the twelve FY 2011 appropriations bills were approved by Senate appropriators, none were ever voted on by the full Senate. The House passed two of its spending bills.
The new Congress will write the final FY 2011 appropriations bills. A December 20, 2010 Fact Sheet issued by the Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee cites “the Republican plan to reduce spending to fiscal year 2008 levels – which would save the taxpayers nearly $100 billion compared to the President’s FY 2011 request.” Many of the upcoming budget battles in January, February and early March of next year will revolve around how levels of federal funding should change.
President Obama was looking ahead to these debates in a December 22 press briefing. It is notable that several times during this 34-minute briefing he discussed R&D funding. The first instance was in his opening remarks:
“I’m also disappointed we weren’t able to come together around a budget to fund our government over the long term. I expect we’ll have a robust debate about this when we return from the holidays - a debate that will have to answer an increasingly urgent question - and that is how do we cut spending that we don’t need while making investments that we do need -- investments in education, research and development, innovation, and the things that are essential to grow our economy over the long run, create jobs, and compete with every other nation in the world. I look forward to hearing from folks on both sides of the aisle about how we can accomplish that goal.”
The President continued to cite research and development in his response to several questions:
“I think that we’re still going to have disagreements in terms of spending priorities. It’s vital for us to make investments in education and research and development -- all those things that create an innovative economy -- while at the same time cutting those programs that just aren’t working. And there are going to be debates between the parties on those issues.”
“And I think we are past the crisis point in the economy, but we now have to pivot and focus on jobs and growth. And my singular focus over the next two years is not rescuing the economy from potential disaster, but rather jumpstarting the economy so that we actually start making a dent in the unemployment rate and we are equipping ourselves so that we can compete in the 21st century. And that means we’ve got to focus on education, that means we have to focus on research and development, we have to focus on innovation. We have to make sure that in every sector, from manufacturing to clean energy to high-tech to biotech, that we recognize the private sector is going to be the driving force. And what the government can do is to make sure that we are a good partner with them, that we’re a facilitator; that in some cases, we’re a catalyst, when it’s a fledgling industry.”
“If we say that education is going to be the single most important determinant for our children’s success and this country’s success in the 21st century, we can’t have schools that are laying off so many teachers that they start going to four days a week, as they’ve done in Hawaii, for example. We’ve got to make sure that young people can afford to go to college. If we want to keep our competitive edge in innovation, well, we’ve got to invest in basic research - the same basic research that resulted in the Internet, the same basic research that invited - that resulted in GPS. All those things originated in research funded by the government.”