"[A]ll of us want to get a budget done as quickly as possible,
[and] get the appropriations process done. We're making very good
progress on coming up with the size of the ultimate budget. And once
that's decided, we pledged to work together to get the appropriations
bills moving as quickly as possible. That would be a welcome relief
from the old budget battles of the past."
So declared President George Bush this morning after a meeting with
congressional leaders, alluding to an agreement struck between key Members
of Congress and the White House. This deal removes the most significant
obstacle that blocked completion of the 13 appropriations bills, and
greatly increases the probability that an education reform bill will
be signed into law.
The key that unlocked the appropriations bills was a forthcoming letter
from President Bush acknowledging the need for $25 billion more in FY
2002 discretionary spending than what was agreed to earlier this year
in the budget resolution. This extra spending will almost certainly
involve using a portion of the Social Security surplus. It had been
apparent to Republicans and Democrats on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue
that the extra money would be needed, but a mechanism had to be found
to ensure that this would not become a campaign issue in the election
next year. The key Republican and Democratic House appropriators wanted
the President to send Congress a formal budget amendment. The White
House balked at making this a formal request, and after some lengthy
negotiations, it was agreed that a letter would be sent to Congress.
Reportedly the appropriators resisted this mechanism, but were overridden
by their parties' leaders.
The additional $25 billion will be used for defense purposes ($18.4
billion), storm and wildfire emergency spending ($2.2 billion), and
education ($4 billion.) The President has said that as long as the 13
appropriations bills do not add up to more than $686 billion in discretionary
spending he will sign them, as long as they are "otherwise acceptable."
Appropriations staff are resolving differences in the House and Senate
versions of already passed bills, and preparing other bills for consideration.
Five of these bills are of particular interest to the physics community.
Both the VA/HUD and the Energy and Water Development bills have a wide
disparity in their overall funding levels that will have to be settled.
The Commerce appropriations bills treat the Advanced Technology Program
very differently. Finally, the Defense and Labor-HHS- Education bills
have not yet gone to either floor. Until these appropriations bills
are signed into law, continuing resolutions will be used to assure funding.
The availability of an additional $4 billion for education programs
in the Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill may enable conference
committee members to move forward on the Elementary and Secondary Education
Act (ESEA), which would reauthorize and reform many Education Department
programs. While both the House and Senate had completed their versions
of ESEA before the August recess, and while many minor differences have
since been resolved, major disagreements still remain on funding and
school performance measures. To help reach agreement on funding issues,
conferees were reportedly looking to the Labor- HHS appropriators to
see how much money would be made available for programs reauthorized
The House version of ESEA would authorize $5 billion over current-year
funding, while the Senate bill would provide more than $14 billion over
the current level of $18.6 billion. Both bills contain some version
of a Math and Science Partnership initiative, whereby university science
and math departments could work with states and local school districts
to improve science and math education. This initiative would take the
place of the Eisenhower professional development funding for science
and math teachers. (See FYI
#80 for details of the partnership programs.)
Because the jurisdiction of the Labor-HHS-Education appropriators extends
to Department of Education programs beyond those in ESEA, it is not
yet obvious how the extra $4 billion for FY 2002 education appropriations
will affect the funding available for ESEA. Labor-HHS appropriators
in the House tentatively plan to begin marking up their bill tonight.
There have been some rumors that, in order to get education reform passed
this year, ESEA authorizers might try to attach their bill to the must-pass
Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill, but conferees must still resolve
the remaining issues on ESEA, and whether that tactic will be attempted
is not yet known.
Richard M. Jones, Audrey T. Leath
Media and Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics