The Gloves Come Off: Science Committee Members Spar Over R&D Cuts

Share This

Share/Save
Publication date: 
23 March 1995
Number: 
44

Perhaps it is inevitable, given the increasingly contentious
climate on Capitol Hill, but Republican and Democratic members of
the House Science Committee have now joined the fray over the
future direction of federal spending.  In a reversal of the
committee's traditional bipartisan approach to science issues, both
sides have just issued documents leaving little doubt about their
approaches to science policy and spending, and about each other's
positions.

For the third time in recent days, documents have been filed
suggesting cuts in future research and development spending.  The
occasion this time was what has been very much an
inside-the-beltway document, the "Views and Estimates" of the
Science Committee.  This is an annual, and little noticed exercise
in which committees provide the House Budget Committee with their
recommendations about future spending.  Its significance this year
is that it is one of the first, if not the first, Republican
congressional policy statements on federal R&D spending.

The "Views and Estimates, Committee on Science," document is five
pages long and was written by the committee's Republicans.  Anyone
looking for bottom line estimates or recommendations for NSF, DOE,
NASA, NIST, and other science budgets that the committee has
jurisdiction over will not find them.  Instead, the document
states: "While the Administration has elected not to make tough
choices, the Committee will not shirk its responsibilities and
intends to produce responsible authorization bills that will
reflect a commitment to both good fundamental science and a
balanced budget.  As a starting point, the Committee intends to
authorize every agency under its jurisdiction at less than FY 1995
levels.  Every program under the Committee's jurisdiction will be
examined closely."  There are no recommended figures for any
agency's FY 1996 budget.  This document ends by stating, "The cuts
required by the Committee as our contribution to deficit reduction
will be real and will come from virtually every program under our
jurisdiction; but as an authorizing committee of the House those
decisions are our responsibility."

The Democratic members of the House Science Committee issued their
own set of "Views and Estimates."  This document is 14 pages long,
with additional attachments.  The bottom line recommendations in
this document are identical to the Clinton Administration's
request, although the Democratic members state, "The President's FY
1996 budget request underfunds civilian R&D."

While new numbers are not found in either document, both parties go
to considerable length to expound their philosophy.  The Republican
document refers to previous deliberations over competitiveness, and
states, "There is a school of thought that subscribes to the
`Government as Oz' theory; that is, the bureaucracy knows all and
sees all, including the future."  Later on, "Members have a stark
choice: technological freedom and opportunity embodied in the
Contract With America, or the same old `contract:' command and
control."

In reply, the committee's Democrats state, "The majority of the
Democratic Members of the Science Committee consider the
Republican's approach to R&D policy short-sighted, naive, and
damaging for the country."  They continue, "The Republican
Contract, if carried out to the letter, would require a 30 to 50
percent cut in Federal R&D spending to offset the costs of a
socially inequitable and economically counter-productive $200
billion tax cut."  This document criticizes the Republican document
for focusing on "areas of divergence" and lack of specifics.

Where this leaves science spending for FY 1996 and beyond is an
unknown.  The Democrats state, "We are pleased that there is still
a broad area of shared, bipartisan support for many of these
programs even as we acknowledge that there are real and perhaps
growing differences on other programs."  The extent to which the
committee is able to preserve this "broad area of shared,
bipartisan support," vital during coming budget cutting
deliberations, in what has become a very contentious Congress is
also an unknown.

Explore FYI topics: