Congress Gets Down to Business on FY 1996 Budget

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Publication date: 
2 May 1995
Number: 
61

The new fiscal year starts five months from now.  During this time,
Congress will go through an intensely controversial period as it
writes budget legislation.  It is almost a certainty that science
and technology funding will be cut, the only question being by how
much.  

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Pete Domenici (R-NM) is going to
take the first stab at coming up with more than $1 trillion in
savings by the year 2002 with a budget resolution next week.  This
resolution sets the general outlines of federal revenue and
spending.  He is expected to call for a freeze in domestic
discretionary program spending through 2002, and, in addition, $200
billion in cuts through program terminations.  This resolution will
indicate how much sentiment there is in the Senate to eliminate the
Departments of Energy and Commerce, and to establish a new
Department of Science.  This resolution will also give a target for
aggregate science and technology spending.  Domenici had planned to
have his resolution in hand by now, but postponed it.  His
explanation: "There's just too much strain to do it under the
gun....There's a lot of queasiness here -- I'm queasy myself."
House Budget Committee Chairman John Kasich (R-OH) will produce his
own budget resolution in mid-May, with a House vote on May 17 and
18.  A final, compromise budget resolution is optimistically
scheduled for the end of May. 

There will be immediate and enormous controversy surrounding these
budget resolutions.  During the last 32 years, spending on domestic
programs has fallen only three times.  Under the Domenici plan it
would likely decline every year for seven years.  The Senate
Appropriations Committee has already gone on record as being very
wary of a spending freeze, much less further cuts.  One policy
group estimates that non-defense discretionary appropriations would
be reduced by one-third or more below once projected levels (which
allowed for growth) by the year 2002 under this scenario.

The numbers in the budget resolution are going to then be used,
according to House Science Committee Chairman Bob Walker (R-PA) as
targets for various science and technology authorization bills (see
FYI #53.)  Maximum spending caps and program direction would be set
by the science committee in these bills, which may be rolled into
one omnibus science authorization bill.  This is where programs
which are out-of-favor with House Republicans may get the ax, such
as the Advanced Technology Program.  This is also where the
momentum for a new Department of Science could gather.  This
authorization legislation would serve as a guide for the
appropriations committees.

Around this time the various appropriations committees will write
their own bills.  All thirteen bills are supposed to go to the full
House by June 10, for final House action by June 30.  A vital
consideration for the VA, HUD, Independent Agencies appropriations
subcommittees (which have jurisdiction over NSF and NASA), the
energy and water development appropriations subcommittees (DOE) and
the Commerce, Justice, State appropriations subcommittees
(Commerce, including NIST) are their 602(b) allocations.  This is
the amount of money which each subcommittee will be given to
"spend" for FY 1996, and is determined by the full appropriations
committee in each house.  A large part of the VA, HUD bill funds
veterans medical care.  An attempt to reduce this spending ran into
real opposition earlier this year, so this program is not likely to
see significant cuts.  NASA's space station also seems to be
relatively insulated from spending reductions on the committee
level, although anything could happen on the floor.  Pressure on
other program budgets is likely to increase. 

Senate appropriations action will follow, with final legislation to
reach the president's desk by September 30.  Congress usually finds
this schedule difficult to meet under the best of times; this year
the process is going to be far more difficult.  Much of the
bipartisan approach to appropriations legislation on the committee
level disappeared during the first 100 days of this session.
President Clinton can, of course, veto any bill.

The House of Representatives returns from its three-week spring
recess today to begin this process.  Members of Congress will hear
from their constituents during the coming months about what the
budget should look like.  A forthcoming FYI will provide guidance
on constituent communication with Congress.

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