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FYI Number 118: October 24, 2002

Deadlocked Congress, Unfinished Legislation

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% higher 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 that 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.

Richard M. Jones
Media and Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics
(301) 209-3095

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