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FYI Number 124: October 2, 2001

Administration and Congress Strike FY 2002 Agreement

"[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 by ESEA.

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
(301) 209-3095/3094

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