The historic FY 2007 budget increases proposed for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, National Science Foundation, and research programs of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, are slipping away. On Monday, Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) and Rep. David Obey (D-WI) announced their support of legislation that in almost all cases would keep funding flat, and in other instances reduce or eliminate funding, for almost every federal department or agency through September 30, 2007. Only the Department of Defense and Department of Homeland Security, for which FY 2007 appropriations bills have been passed, would be exempt. Obey and Byrd are the incoming chairmen of the appropriations committees, who would draft this continuing resolution when the new Congress convenes in January.
Byrd and Obey’s announcement “to clean up the mess left behind” follows the decision of the current House and Senate majority leaders to adjourn this session of Congress without passing the remaining ten appropriations bills. Under a resolution passed last week, funding is continued through February 15. In a statement released on Monday, Byrd and Obey explained their reasoning behind a continuing resolution through September 30 as follows:
“The new Congress will face, as one of its first orders of business, the job of finishing the appropriations process for the current year. We also must prepare for February’s arrival of the President's new budget and an expensive White House request for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The outgoing Republican Leadership's failure to govern has denied the new Congress the opportunity to start with a fresh slate.
“As incoming Chairmen of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, we are now responsible for finding a way out of this fiscal mayhem. It is important that we clear the decks quickly so that we can get to work on the American people's priorities, the President's anticipated war funding request, and a new budget.
“Unfortunately, there are no good options available to us to complete the unfinished work of the Republican Congress. After discussions with our colleagues, we have decided to dispose of the Republican budget leftovers by passing a year-long joint resolution. We will do our best to make whatever limited adjustments are possible within the confines of the Republican budget to address the nation's most important policy concerns. We intend to work with the leadership of both parties in both houses to do what we can to resolve last year's disputes and turn to the challenges facing us in the new fiscal year.
“While the results will be far from ideal, this path provides the best way to dispose of the unfinished business quickly, and allow governors, state and local officials, and families to finally plan for the coming year with some knowledge of what the federal government is funding.
“There will be no Congressional earmarks in the joint funding resolution that we will pass. We will place a moratorium on all earmarks until a reformed process is put in place. Earmarks included in this year's House and Senate bills will be eligible for consideration in the 2008 process, subject to new standards for transparency and accountability. We will work to restore an accountable, above-board, transparent process for funding decisions and put an end to the abuses that have harmed the credibility of Congress.
“There is no good way out of the fiscal chaos left behind by the outgoing Congress. Indeed, this joint resolution provides the Administration far too much latitude in spending the people's money. But that is a temporary price that we will pay in order to give the President's new budget the attention and oversight it deserves and requires, and so that we can begin work right away at putting the people's priorities front and center. We, in the new Congress, have a responsibility to build the foundation for a better future. We cannot begin that work until we fix the problems left behind by the Republican Congress. So, we must turn the page on the Republican failures and work together in the best interests of the American people.”
Republican Members of Congress joined Byrd and Obey in criticizing the decision to leave the unpassed spending bills hanging until the new Congress convenes. House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman C.W. (Bill) Young (R-FL), who was once the chairman of the full Appropriations Committee, remarked “The Senate should be ashamed of themselves.” A spokesman for Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran (R-MS) called the decision “irresponsible.” House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerry Lewis (R-CA) was specific in his criticism, saying last week on the House floor, “the failure to get our bills done, should be fairly placed at the feet of the departing Senate majority leader [Bill Frist] who failed to schedule floor time for the consideration of appropriations bills.” Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM), in hard-hitting remarks to the Senate, stated, “As to the charge that taking up individual appropriations bills when they emerged from Committee might take up too much time, my goodness – they are supposed to take up time. The Senate is the deliberative body; the spending of money is the making of choices, and it deserves debate, full and hot and heavy. Of course, appropriations bills can take a lot of time – because they make a difference.”
At the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, Office of Management and Budget Director Rob Portman issued this statement:
“The Administration's goal has been for the remaining 2007 appropriations bills to be completed, and we communicated that message to the Congress throughout the appropriations process. The announcement from the incoming Congressional majority is disappointing because we want to work with the new Congress to finish this important work. There are still more than nine months remaining in the fiscal year, and we believe we should be working through the remaining bills to achieve the best results possible for the American people. While it is not our preference to have a year-long continuing resolution, we will certainly work with the agencies and the Congress to ensure there are no major disruptions to essential government services. Should there be a long-term continuing resolution, the Administration would want to assure we maintain fiscal discipline and avoid gimmicks and unwarranted emergency spending.”
Getting each of the appropriations bills passed on an individual basis seemed increasingly doubtful as the clock ran down on the congressional year. There was disagreement about the overall spending limit, and fiscal conservatives were wary of allowing any appropriations bill to be passed because of their concern that it would become a vehicle for pork barrel projects.
The impacts that flat funding will have on federal programs are being determined. Reports indicate that federal employee salary increases will not occur, administrative expenses at the Department of Justice would be reduced by 60 percent, Amtrak funding by 14 percent, public housing capital by 9 percent, juvenile justice programs by 16 percent, and NOAA funding by 15 percent. The NOAA budget director predicted that if the continuing resolution went beyond mid-February, 400 full-time employees and 400 contractors could be laid off. School breakfast and lunch programs may have to cut off 1.2 million low-income participants. Veterans’ groups have been especially critical of the impact level funding will have on programs such as traumatic-brain-injury and prosthetic research.
Domenici spoke of the impact that level funding will have on DOE:
“It is almost ludicrous that at this time in history, the 109th Congress failed to act on this bill. We read daily about the growing nuclear threat in North Korea; millions of words are written and spoken on the threat of an Iran with a nuclear capability. Six Arab, Sunni nations have now petitioned for a nuclear program through the International Atomic Energy Agency, including Saudi Arabia, contending that they need such programs for domestic energy purposes. Many analysts believe that the Arab nations observe the growing threat of a Shia Iran, with the potential for a nuclear weapon, and want nuclear programs for weapons purposes. We listen to witnesses tell us of their fears of nuclear terrorism and the failures of the present non-proliferation programs.
“For more than two decades now, these subjects have been the focus of much of my work as a Senator. And much of the good work that this nation has done to address non-proliferation and nuclear terrorism is funded by the Energy and Water Appropriations Bill.
“Yet at this dangerous time, the 109th Congress couldn’t find time to take up the Energy and Water Appropriations Bill. In addition to hundreds of millions, almost billions of dollars for disposing of weapons grade nuclear material, and funding to try to stop nuclear material from shipment to this nation, the bill funded alternative energy sources. It funds weatherization grants for Americans. It funds a brand new approach to handling nuclear waste here and abroad.”
“. . . in the area of nuclear non-proliferation, the Administration has given careful thought to how to handle the growing Iran and North Korea nuclear threat. Yet, under the strategy adopted by this Congress on my bill, the Nonproliferation and International Security Account will be $53 million less than the House passed bill and the Senate Committee-reported bill recommend. Think about that, short-changing that non-proliferation account because we were afraid to vote.”
“Second, and even more serious, one of the largest non-proliferation projects ever will be delayed. The Fissile Materials Disposition program, located in South Carolina . . . known by the short hand of MOX. That program now has stopped construction, because the House-passed bill eliminated all funding. And, since we have no Senate-passed bill, we cannot even negotiate levels on the Continuing Resolution. Think about this: the United States and Russia have spent the last 10 years negotiating a deal to eliminate 34 tons of plutonium from the of the nations’ stockpiles and now the future of this effort is in limbo because Congress couldn’t find the time to do its job.
“As Chairman of the Energy and Water subcommittee I was excited about the new initiatives proposed by the President including energy independence and to increase funding for science research in the FY2007 request.
“The FY2007 budget took bold steps and made significant investment in nuclear power and alternative energy. Unfortunately, enactment of a CR will delay our investment into alternative energy and maintain our increasing level of dependence on foreign energy sources.”
Regarding the American Competitiveness Initiative, Domenici said: “The Senate Energy and Water bill also fully funds the President’s request for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science. Our future economic growth and security will require our schools to train the next generation of scientists and engineers. We haven’t done enough and are losing ground in scientific research. This budget will reverse that trend with investments in basic scientific [research].”
What is the possibility that the funding requested by the Bush Administration for NSF, DOE, and NIST, and provided by the House and Senate Appropriations Committees in their initial funding bills, might materialize? Said Byrd and Obey: “We will do our best to make whatever limited adjustments are possible within the confines of the Republican budget to address the nation's most important policy concerns.” OMB Director Portman stated: “we will certainly work with the agencies and the Congress to ensure there are no major disruptions to essential government services.” There is approximately $7 billion that Obey and Byrd will have to distribute in FY 2007 to provide increases “to address the nation's most important policy concerns.” The budget increases requested for NSF, the DOE Office of Science, and the NIST research program total $910 million.
The last words on the failure of the current Congress to pass the appropriations bills are those of Senator Domenici who said on December 6: “I understand the challenges the leadership of Congress faces. Any of us who have served as Chairman of the Budget Committee certainly understand the cross-currents in this Chamber. But, putting aside hard choices almost never leads to good results. We should remain in session this month until we fund the 2007 bills. After all, that’s our job.”
The Senate adjourned on December 9 without taking further action on the appropriations bills.