This week the full House Appropriations Committee issued its versions of two of twelve FY 2014 funding bills. The process started without a clear end plan using numbers that are contested by the Senate Democratic leadership.
There is no solution, or even a process to arrive at a solution, in sight about the difference in the total amount that the House and Senate leaderships want to spend on discretionary programs in FY 2014. House Republicans passed a spending plan assuming that the reduction mandated by sequestration remains in place. Senate Democrats passed a plan assuming that sequestration is eliminated. The difference between these plans – or budget resolutions - is $91 billion. The House leadership has not named its participants to a conference to settle this difference, contending that it would be a misuse of time until the framework of a spending agreement is reached in private negotiations. Failure to reach agreement on this overall spending level by May 15 gave House appropriators a green light to start issuing their bills.
The two House bills fund Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, and Homeland Security. Before passing these bills, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers (R-KY) decided how much each of the twelve appropriations bills would receive of the $967 billion specified in the House resolution. Under this plan, a total reduction of less than 1 percent from current funding levels was made for these bills and for the future Department of Defense bill. In order to maintain this level for these three bills a 17 percent reduction was made in the total allocation for the other nine bills funding domestic programs and foreign aid.
Under Rogers’ plan, which was approved by the House earlier this week, the Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Subcommittee will see a reduction in its total spending allocation of 0.4 percent as compared to the post-sequester FY 2013 level. This subcommittee provides funding for the National Science Foundation, NASA, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. The Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee which funds the Department of Energy’s Office of Science will have an allocation that is 11.2 percent less than the current level. The allocation for the bill that includes funding for the National Institutes of Health was reduced by 18.6 percent.
Rogers has called for an agreement with the Senate on a total FY 2014 spending level as part of a larger plan that would, he expects, remove the threat of sequestration for its remaining nine years. This action may come as part of a deal to raise the debt limit which will be reached toward the end of the year.
The effects of sequestration on federal research spending were spelled out in a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing last week on the National Institutes of Health. NIH Director Francis Collins described this first year of sequestration as a “devastating blow” to NIH and the biomedical research community. This year’s budget is $1.7 billion less than that for last year, and will result in 700 fewer new grants. If the sequester runs its full ten-year course NIH will lose a total of $19 billion. “I cannot gloss over the severity of this situation,” said Collins. “The potential damage - the [loss of] scientific momentum, economic growth, and morale - is profound.”
Note: Quotations are from a transcript prepared by and used with the permission of CQ Roll Call.