Congress has left town and will not return until after the
election. Left behind are key appropriations and authorization
bills of great interest to the science community. With the
exception of Defense Department research being funded through the
FY 2003 DOD appropriations bill that has been signed into law,
all other operations, including federal research programs, are
being funded at last year's level for another month.
It has been at least fifty years since Congress left so much of
the appropriations process incomplete. The full House has
passed just five of the thirteen appropriations bills. Two bills
- Commerce, Justice, State (funding NIST) and Labor, HHS and
Education (funding the Department of Education and NIH) have not
even been approved by the House Appropriations Committee. The
full Senate has only passed three appropriations bills.
The prime reason for this breakdown is disagreement between the
House, Senate, and the White House about the total size of the
discretionary budget for the fiscal year we are now in. The House
agrees with the overall size of the President's $760.5 billion
request. Senate appropriators want to spend $12 billion, or 1.6%,
more. Until all parties agree on a figure there will not be any
movement on the remaining eleven appropriations bills.
Congress and the Administration will try to resolve this
disagreement when Members return for a post-election, lame-duck
session in about two weeks. Tradition points to an eventual
decision to "split the difference" that will mean about 1%
spending than the President's request. If an agreement is
reached, look for the eleven appropriations bills to be bundled
into a massive omnibus bill that will be written by comparatively
few Members and completely read by even fewer Members. If
agreement cannot be reached, Congress will pass and the President
will sign a bill continuing funding at the current level into
December or the next year. The Administration and new Congress
will then try again early next year.
The outlook for several important authorization bills is even more
uncertain. The House and Senate were ready to pass legislation
authorizing a doubling of the National Science Foundation's
budget. That legislation has literally been put on hold. There
are several reports that the Office of Management and Budget did
not like the "doubling" language in the bill and its five-year
time frame. While H.R. 4664 had the votes it did not have the
floor time to resolve differences in the legislation's provisions.
At the request of OMB, a senator put a "hold" on this bill
prevented it from being passed expeditiously. It is hoped that
these obstacles can be resolved when Congress meets in November,
or early next year.
The massive energy policy bill has several provisions providing
substantial benefits to DOE's Office of Science operations and
budget. That legislation is stalled over electricity provisions.
The future of some of the Office of Science provisions is unclear
if the bill eventually does move. Also stymied is the authorizing
bill for the Department of Homeland Security containing important
provisions relating to the national weapons laboratories.
How and when this legislative deadlock will be broken is unknown.