Short Term Funding Compromise at Hand, Long Term Conflict Unresolved

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Publication date: 
1 March 2011

If all goes according to plan, the House and Senate will agree on a two-week funding compromise that will avoid a feared government-wide shut down this Friday.  The much larger conflict about the level of government spending for the rest of the fiscal year remains unresolved, with mounting fears about the impacts that a House-passed bill would have on federal science budgets.

The backdrop for this week’s compromise that will continue funding until March 18 follows passage by the House last month of H.R. 1.  The bill that came to the floor reworked the House leadership’s first version of this continuing resolution.  That draft was rejected by more fiscally-conservative Republicans who complained that deeper cuts were necessary.  When it came to the floor, this bill included $58 billion in cuts as compared to FY 2010 funding levels.  It included the following science-related reductions:

Department of Energy:

Nuclear Energy: $131.8 million
Nuclear Nonproliferation: $97.1
Office of Science: $893.2 million

Department of Education:

Mathematics and Science Partnerships: $180.5 million


$303 million


Construction: $69 million
Construction grants (termination): $20 million
Industrial Technology Services: $25 million
Scientific and Technical Research Services: $45.5 million

National Science Foundation:

Education and Human Resources: $147 million
Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction: $62.5 million
Research and Related Activities: $150 million

U.S. Geological Survey:

Various climate change programs: $21.6 million

Note that the above reductions do not reflect changes from the Administration’s FY 2011 request.  In almost every instance, reductions from the FY 2011 request are larger, often significantly.

In explaining the approach which the House Appropriations Committee took in the drafting of this bill, its chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) explained to his colleagues on the House floor:

“The Continuing Resolution [CR] on the floor today represents the largest reduction in non-security discretionary spending in the history of the nation. It funds the federal government for the remainder of the 2011 fiscal year, but, most importantly, it answers taxpayers’ calls to right our nation’s fiscal ship, making specific, substantive and comprehensive spending reductions -- cutting more than $100 billion compared with the President’s FY11 budget request.”

He later said:

“Make no mistake: These cuts will not be easy, and they will affect every Congressional district, but they are necessary and long overdue.
“Although we recognize that every dollar we cut has a constituency of support – an association, an industry and individual citizens – who will disagree with our decision, these cuts are the result of difficult work by our subcommittees to make the smartest and fairest reductions possible. No stones were left unturned and no programs were held sacred. The Appropriations Committee went line by line to craft a responsible, judicious CR -- one that will allow our economy to thrive, our businesses to create jobs, and our national security to be strengthened.”

The House passed the bill on almost a straight party line vote: 235 yes – 189 no.  During the House’s consideration of the bill hundreds of amendments were considered that changed the original language of H.R. 1.  A selection of these amendments with budgetary and policy implications will be provided in a future FYI.

Since only seven months remain in FY 2011, the impacts that the bill’s proposed reductions would have on agency operations have been of great concern.  In a commentary for the Chicago Tribune, Argonne National Laboratory Director Eric Isaacs and Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory Director Pier Oddone estimated that their current budgets would be effectively reduced by 40 percent.  The labs would have to furlough 1,900 employees and lay off more than 1,000 other employees.  Argonne’s Advanced Photon Source would be temporarily closed.  It has been calculated that the National Science Foundation would make 500 fewer Research and Related Activities awards, and 235 fewer Education and Human Resources awards than it did with FY 2010 funding should H.R. 1 should it become law.

Reductions of the scope and depth of those in H.R. 1 were rejected by the Democratic leadership in the Senate.  With only a few days of funding remaining until this Friday there has been great pressure to pass another continuing resolution to prevent the closure of the federal government.  The House is now considering a bill to extend funding for another two weeks that would make $4 billion in cuts in earmarks and  reductions that President Obama previously called for in his FY 2012 request.  It is anticipated that the House and Senate will pass this bill. 

The much larger question remains about how the remaining seven months of FY 2011 will be funded.  Some on Capitol Hill are predicting that a series of two-week funding bills will be passed to maintain operations.  Future appropriations bills will have to include funding cuts to win passage in both the House and Senate, and how large these reductions will be, and what programs they will affect, is yet to be determined.

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