March 18th, 2013, by Abby Benson  

Week in Review, or Battling Budgets

It was a productive week on Capitol Hill, with lawmakers working to wrap up the FY 2013 appropriations process while at the same time kicking off the FY 2014 process by introducing contrasting budget resolutions in each chamber.

As reported last week, the House has already passed its version of the FY 2013 continuing resolution (CR) which would fund the government beyond March 27th, when the current CR expires. The House bill would provide additional spending flexibility beyond a normal CR by including full spending bills for the Departments of Defense (DoD) and Veterans Affairs (VA). The Senate version of the CR would extend this flexibility even further by including full spending bills for the DoD and VA, as well as agencies funded through the Commerce, Justice, Science (including NASA, NSF, NOAA, and  NIST); Agriculture; and Homeland Security bills. Both the House and the Senate CR appear to abide by the $1.043 trillion spending level for FY 2013 agreed to in the Budget Contol Act (BCA), as well as further reductions agreed to in the American Taxpayer Relief Act (ATRA, a.k.a the fiscal cliff deal), but neither includes sequestration, the roughly 5-7% across the board spending cuts that have gone into effect and will be deducted from the final spending levels once the bill is enacted into law.

The Senate aimed to pass its version of the CR last week, but this timeline was pushed off by controversy about how many amendment would be allowed to be offered on the floor. This delay left staff to work through this issue over the weekend, and the bill will likely be considered again today. One amendment that may be considered this week, offered by Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK), would prohibit the NSF from conducting political science research. The amendment would take $10 million from the NSF and give $7 million of that funding to the National Cancer Institute, with no mention of what would happen to the remaining $3 million (presumably it would go to deficit reduction).  The president of the Association of American Universities (AAU) sent a letter to Senate Appropriators urging them to oppose the amendment, stating that it “sets up a false dichotomy between medical research and research in the social sciences that we emphatically reject.”  The letter goes on to warn that the amendment would with negatively impact the peer review process and circumvent the normal Congressional committee oversight process. This “false dichotomy” between the social sciences and medical research has become a common theme among some Republicans, including House majority Leader Eric Cantor who, as Roll Call recently reported, plans to introduce a bill that “directs the federal government to stop funding research into social science in favor of hard science such as medical research.”

If the Senate is able to pass their CR this week, the House would have to also pass the bill by the end of the week to avoid a government shutdown. This would also allow lawmakers to leave town at the end of the week for their scheduled two week Easter recess–always a good motivator to get things done!

Meanwhile, the House and Senate made some progress on FY 2014 with both Budget Committees reporting out a budget resolution. Budget resolutions are not enacted into law, but they do provide a framework for how each majority party (currently Republicans in the House and Democrats in the Senate) would like to see the government take in revenues and spend money. House Budget Committee Chairman, and former Vice Presidential candidate, Paul Ryan (R-WI) released his FY 2014 Path to Prosperity, which aims to reduce the federal deficit by $4.6 trillion over ten years through actions such as repealing health care reform, cutting discretionary spending, and reforming entitlement program and the tax code, but not increasing taxes. By contrast, Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-WA) released the Pro Growth Budget Plan. This budget resolution aims to reach $1.8 trillion in deficit reduction (which, when combined with deficit reduction measures already taken through the BCA, ATRA, and others would surpass the $4 trillion mark) through such actions as repealing the sequester, continuing support for health care reform, keeping taxes lows for the middle class, and investing in economic growth programs. While these budgets don’t provide detail at the programmatic level, they do provide an overview of the ideologies driving both parties and give the appropriations committee a framework within which to take on the FY 2014 appropriations process. The appropriations process would also normally be informed by a program-level detailed budget request from the White House, but that submission continues to be delayed until April.

Also of Note

Appointments/Departures. Science reports that Cora Marret, Deputy Director of the NSF, will serve as Acting Director when the current NSF Director, Subra Suresh, steps down from that post on March 22nd to become the next president of Carnegie Mellon University.

In an email to staff last Friday, Bill Brinkman, the Director of DOE’s Office of Science, announced that he would step down from that post effective April 12th.

Cybersecurity. The Computing Research Association provides a great summary of two cybersecurity and computing bills that were recently marked up by the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee. HR 756, the Cybersecurity Enhancement Act of 2013 “promotes education, training, awareness, and research in cybersecurity via authorizing of federal research funding, scholarships, and coordination of programs across NITRD agencies,” while HR 967, the Advancing America’s Networking and Information Technology Research and Development Act of 2013 “requires the NITRD agencies to create a five-year strategic plan for the program, and to have the program’s progress periodically reviewed by a committee of IT experts from academia and industry.” NITRD is a program comprised of 17 federal agencies that coordinate the nation’s communications and information technology R&D.

Energy. In a speech given at DOE’s Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois last Friday, President Barack Obama outlined his Blueprint for a Clean and Secure Energy Future, The Blueprint includes the creation of an energy security trust–which we first heard about in the State of the Union–to “provide $2 billion for critical, cutting-edge research focused on developing cost-effective transportation alternatives.”

Research. The White House announced that the U.S Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) issued its annual report for FY 2013 to Congress entitled Our Changing Planet. The USGCRP coordinates and integrates federal research on changes in the global environment and their implications for society.

Space. SpacePolicyOnline reports on recent sequestration guidance issued by the NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. This guidance would impose some limitations on NASA employees, including travel and participation in certain conferences.

In Print

The Directors of the Lawrence Berkeley, Argonne, and Oak Ridge National labs write in The Atlantic about how The Sequester Is Going to Devastate U.S. Science Research for Decades.

The Washington Post published two pieces outlining the impact sequestration would have on universities, the first entitled Sequestration Cuts University Research  and the second entitled Universities Lobby to Stop Sequester.

What’s on Deck

Tuesday (3/19)

Wednesday (3/20)

Thursday (3/21)

 

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