Yesterday the White House threatened to veto the House defense appropriations bill and the Senate CJS appropriations bill that funds four federal science agencies. The chambers are actively considering both bills on their respective floors this week, but White House opposition and partisan controversies connected to the bills threaten to derail them.
Issuing two statements of administration policy yesterday, the White House flexed its muscle with respect to the fiscal year 2017 budget process and threatened vetoes of spending bills important to the scientific community: the House Department of Defense appropriations bill and the Senate Commerce, Justice, and Science (CJS) appropriations bill, which funds the National Science Foundation, NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. (The full statement of administration policy on the House defense bill is available here and the full statement on the Senate CJS bill here.)
The White House’s statement on the CJS bill in particular backs up its veto threat by citing a failure to adequately support R&D. It emphasizes the importance of R&D funding at NSF, NASA and the Department of Commerce (NOAA/NIST) “in expanding the frontiers of human knowledge, tackling the Nation’s biggest challenges, and driving the economy forward,” and in particular calls for the funding of the administration's mandatory spending proposals for R&D.
The administration’s move comes as the House and Senate have already begun floor consideration of both of the measures. The House continued today its second day of floor consideration of the defense appropriations measure including 75 proposed amendments, and the Senate voted 94 to 3 this morning to begin formal debate and consideration of the CJS measure.
Spending bills becoming vehicles for debate of contentious policy issues
A number of the fiscal year 2017 spending bills are drawing controversy and reaching impasse because they are being used as vehicles by lawmakers to highlight and debate contentious policy issues – most of which are unrelated to science. As of this afternoon, Senate Democrats are embarking on a talking filibuster of the CJS spending bill to demand action on controlling access to guns, following the deadliest mass shooting in American history in Orlando over the weekend. The filibuster has the potential to delay and potentially sink the bill, but it is not yet blocking action on the floor. In its statement on the bill, the White House also mentions the importance of enforcing gun laws.
The administration’s statement on the House defense spending bill objects primarily to the House Republicans’ tactic of boosting an emergency wartime supplemental funding account by $15.7 billion and diverting it to the Department of Defense’s base budget in order to skirt fiscal year 2017 budget caps. House Democrats argue this violates the spirit of a recently enacted budget agreement, which pegged defense and non-defense spending at essentially flat levels in fiscal year 2017. They insist that any increase in defense spending must be met with an equivalent increase in non-defense spending.
Final votes in the House on the defense appropriations bill and in the Senate on the CJS appropriations bill could come within days, although neither is certain to succeed. The House Energy-Water appropriations legislation that funds the Department of Energy stalled after a May 26 vote of 112 to 305. Although there appeared to be majority support for the underlying legislation, the successful inclusion of an amendment protecting some LGBT Americans from job discrimination made the bill objectionable to many lawmakers who might have otherwise supported it.
Excerpts from the Statement of Administration Policy on the CJS bill
Selected excerpts from the Statement of Administration Policy on the Senate Fiscal Year 2017 Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations Act:
The Administration welcomes the bill's investments…in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's observational infrastructure, including funding for the next generation of polar orbiting satellites that are critical to providing accurate and timely weather forecasts.… The Administration also appreciates…the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) Commercial Crew program. … The Administration is deeply concerned that the bill adds more than $1 billion above the FY 2017 Budget request for NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion capsule while underfunding other key NASA programs—an approach that would result in an unbalanced exploration program that is unable to achieve shared exploration goals.
The Administration also urges the Congress to enact the mandatory research and development (R&D) funding requested in NASA, the National Science Foundation, and the Department of Commerce to support the critical role that R&D plays in expanding the frontiers of human knowledge, tackling the Nation's biggest challenges, and driving the economy forward.
In October 2015, the President worked with congressional leaders from both parties to secure the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 (BBA), which partially reversed harmful sequestration cuts slated for FY 2017. By providing fully-paid-for equal dollar increases for defense and non-defense spending, the BBA allows for investments in FY 2017 that create jobs, support middle-class families, contribute to long-term growth, and safeguard national security. The Administration looks forward to working with the Congress to enact appropriations that are consistent with that agreement, and fully support economic growth, opportunity, and our national security priorities.
National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Labs. The Administration urges the Congress to support increased funding for high priority research initiatives at the NIST labs proposed in the FY 2017 Budget request. These initiatives allow NIST to conduct the research necessary to strengthen U.S. leadership in the industries of the future, such as advanced communications, quantum computing, and advanced manufacturing. The Administration notes that the bill provided $24 million more than requested for lab construction and believes these funds would be better directed to the new research initiatives proposed in the FY 2017 Budget request.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The Administration appreciates the Committee's support for NOAA's observational infrastructure, including high priority weather and next generation polar satellites, and urges the Congress also to support critical investments in climate and oceans research. These investments, such as Arctic observations, the Climate Resilience Toolkit, and ocean acidification, provide information to help communities around the United States prepare for the effects of natural disasters and other ramifications of climate change and provide the science necessary to inform their preparations.
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
Funding Balance. The Administration appreciates the Committee's robust overall funding level for NASA. However, the Administration is deeply concerned that the bill adds more than $1 billion above the FY 2017 Budget request for the SLS rocket and Orion capsule while underfunding other key NASA programs. Continued congressional focus on these large-scale development programs at the expense of the technologies and capabilities needed to make space exploration affordable and future missions achievable would result in an unbalanced exploration program that is unable to achieve shared exploration goals.
Exploration R&D. The Administration strongly urges the Congress to fully fund the FY 2017 Budget request for Exploration R&D, including funds to initiate a public/private partnership to create a deep space habitat and to proceed with the Asteroid Redirect Mission. Underfunding the request would leave the SLS and Orion without missions and needed capabilities when their testing is complete.
Space Technology. The Administration urges the Congress to fully fund the FY 2017 Budget request for NASA Space Technology. Compared to the request, the bill reduces funding for these investments by $140 million, or 17 percent, and includes programmatic direction that further reduces the funding available for planned missions. Impacts would likely include delaying development of a cutting-edge laser communication system, advanced, high power solar electric propulsion, and other space technology demonstrations, slowing progress on the journey to Mars, and reducing the international competitiveness of the U.S. commercial space industry.
Aeronautics. The Administration urges the Congress to fully fund the FY 2017 Budget request for Aeronautics. The bill's reduction of $190 million from the request would likely force NASA to abandon its new series of experimental aircraft intended to make aircraft faster, greener, and more efficient and to ensure the U.S. aerospace industry's leadership.
Science. The Administration urges the Congress to fully fund the FY 2017 Budget request for NASA Science programs. Compared to the request, the bill reduces funding by over $200 million, potentially delaying or cancelling space science missions in development, terminating operating missions, and reducing new funding for research grants.
National Science Foundation (NSF)
Agency Operations and Award Management. The Administration is concerned that the bill underfunds the required costs associated with the agency's plans to move its headquarters in FY 2017 and would therefore impact the agency's ability to carry out its mission.
Major Research Equipment and Facility Construction. The Administration is concerned that the Committee provided $53 million more than requested for the Major Research Equipment and Facility Construction account and believes these funds would be better directed to other NSF initiatives.