Created by on 5/1/2012 12:00:00 AM

Members of Congress shifted their attention to fiscal matters as they returned to Washington after their spring recess and took the first steps toward completion of the fiscal year (FY) 2013 appropriations bills. Any hope that the process would be less contentious than the spending battles that played out last year was quickly diminished as the House and Senate Appropriations Committees took very different paths in approving their 302(b) allocations – the total level of funding available for each of the 12 separate bills. On April 19th, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved their 302(b) allocations by a bipartisan vote of 27-2. Senators Jerry Moran (R-KS) and Ron Johnson (R-WI) were the two “no” votes. As expected, the Senate adhered to the $1.047 trillion spending cap that was included in the Budget Control Act (BCA) adopted last year. The Agriculture, Energy & Water Development (E&W), and Labor, Health and Human Services (LHHS) Subcommittees that fund the Agriculture and Food Research (AFRI) Initiative, the Department of Energy Office of Science (DOE SC), and the National Institutes of Health respectively, all received increases above their 2012 funding levels (see chart below).
Facing intense pressure from fiscal conservatives, the House Appropriations Committee rejected the BCA spending limit and instead divided a total of $1.028 trillion among its subcommittees. That level is $19 billion below the amount approved by the Senate. During a tense debate over the funding levels, ranking member Norm Dicks (D-WA) warned the panel to support the numbers already agreed to in the BCA, stating that making additional cuts would hurt the economy and disrupt the appropriations process. Unfortunately the committee rejected a Dicks amendment to increase the subcommittee allocations to the BCA level by a 20-29 vote. Another proposal offered by Representative Jeff Flake (R-AZ) to reduce overall spending by to $931 billion (a 23 percent cut) was also defeated. As a result of the decision to deviate from the BCA total, every House subcommittee except Defense and E&W received allocations that were below their FY 2012 levels, with the LHHS Subcommittee bearing the brunt of the cuts. LHHS was given $150 billion, $7.1 billion (4.5 percent) less than last year and $7.7 billion below the Senate level. Subcommittee ranking member Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) sharply criticized the cut to the LHHS bill and noted, “Investments in education and medical research and job training did not cause our current budget problems, and slashing that spending will not fix our problems. In fact education, medical research, and job training help put us on the right path.”
The allocations for the subcommittees that fund the federal science agencies are as follows:
FY 2013 Senate 302(b) Allocation
FY 2013 Senate 302(b)Allocation Compared to FY 2012 Funding Level
FY 2013 House 302(b) Allocation
FY 2013 House 302(b) Allocation Compared to FY 2012 Funding Level
(funds AFRI)
$20.785 billion
+$1.005 billion (+5%)
 -$375 million
Commerce, Justice, Science
(funds NSF)
$51.862 billion
-$839 million
$51.131 billion
 -$1.570 billion
(funds DOE SC)
$33.361 billion
+$1.736 billion (+5.48%)
$32.098 billion
 +$473 million
Labor, Health & Human Services
(funds NIH)
$157.722 billion
+588 million
$150.002 billion
 -$7.132 billion
Military-Constructions/Veterans Affairs (VA)
(funds the VA Medical & Prosthetic Research Program)
$72.241 billion
-$291 million
$71.747 billion
 -$785 million
The House’s decision to deviate from the BCA agreement did not go over well with the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB). OMB quickly sent a letter to House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) stating that President Barack Obama will not sign any FY 2013 appropriations bills that are below the caps established last year. The OMB letter noted that “These funding levels will mean deep and painful cuts in investments that America needs to succeed – in education and training, in research and development, and in clean energy and infrastructure – and will undermine future economic growth and degrade many of the basic government services on which the American people rely.”
Following approval of the funding allocations, several House and Senate subcommittees considered and adopted their spending bills (see related stories below). Despite the overall climate of fiscal austerity, both chambers made it clear that there is support for increased funding for the National Science Foundation. The Senate also provided a significant increase for AFRI. DOE SC would essentially be flat-funded at the FY 2012 level. Consideration of the LHHS bill is not likely to happen until either June or July, and there are rumors that the House may wait until after the Supreme Court issues its decision on whether the Affordable Care Act health care reform law is constitutional. The timing for sending most of the individual appropriations bills to the House and Senate floor is also uncertain, although debate on the Commerce, Justice, Science bill is currently scheduled to begin on May 8th.