When Congress returns from its summer recess next month one of the items on its packed schedule will be a bill crafted by Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert C. Byrd (D-WV) that would provide additional FY 2008 science funding. Under this draft legislation, Department of Energy science programs would receive $150 million. An additional $250 million would be slated for NASA to speed production of a replacement for the space shuttle, and $500 million would be provided to the National Institutes of Health for new research grants. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would receive $26 million.
Chairman Byrd explained the rationale for his bill as follows:
"The U.S. economy has largely stagnated, with an anemic growth rate of 0.6 percent in the fourth quarter of 2007 and 1 percent in the first quarter of 2008. The Treasury Secretary has warned that slow growth could continue for months. The U.S. economy has lost jobs every month this year, a total of 438,000 jobs. Construction has lost 528,000 jobs since September 2006. Manufacturing has lost 353,000 jobs since June 2007. . . . Consumer confidence is at a near fifty-year low. In June 2008, more consumers than at any time since the survey has been conducted reported that their financial situation has worsened."
Byrd estimates that his $24.1 billion bill would create 200,000 jobs, and provide funding for job training and services for an additional 133,000 individuals. The chairman's statement did not provide further detail about the science funding provisions.
Chairman Byrd wants to bring this stimulus supplemental bill to the Senate floor in September. He had planned to move the bill though his committee before the Senate went on recess, but a continuing disagreement over off-shore oil and gas drilling delayed consideration of the legislation. That disagreement has not been resolved.
There is uneven support for the bill. Some Republican Members of Congress, and the Administration, contend that it is premature. President Bush has not closed the door on a second stimulus bill, saying that it is too early to assess fully the impacts of the $92 billion that taxpayers received from the first bill.
Chairman Byrd's second supplemental bill could be attached to what is now viewed as a certain stop-gap funding bill, or continuing resolution, to provide funding for almost all federal departments and programs into the new year. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has indicated her support for a second supplemental stimulus bill. House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey (D-WI) in a recent interview spoke of a "scientific-research deficit."
The additional money for science that Byrd is seeking positions science programs in a favorable light as the continuing resolution is drafted. There is growing recognition that flat-funding levels lasting until next spring will be harmful to science programs. Previous funding bills have reflected the strong bipartisan support for science by providing additional money above flat funding levels for selected science programs. The almost $1 billion for science programs in Chairman Byrd's draft legislation helps to maintain the profile of science funding as Congress and the Administration look ahead to the next six months.