Senate Votes to Increase Spending for Science Programs

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Publication date: 
6 April 2001

Yesterday, the Senate voted to increase the amount of money that it would provide to fund the National Science Foundation, NASA, and the Department of Energy's Office of Science. This bipartisan expression of support in the Senate Budget Resolution is an important indication of how the Senate views science, and what it may do later this year when it starts its consideration of the FY 2002 appropriations bills. Other actions this week were also encouraging.

This vote to increase science funding is one of a series of actions that have occurred since President Bush released his Budget Blueprint. D. Allan Bromley, White House Science Advisor for the first President Bush, authored an op-ed in The New York Timesthat called proposed cuts to scientific research "a self-defeating policy." Calling on Congress to increase federal funding for science, Bromley ended his op-ed with a conclusion that has been repeatedly cited: "No science, no surplus. It's that simple." The House Science Committee issued a report that called the NSF request "minuscule" and repeatedly expressed concern about various S&T budgets. House Budget Committee member Rush Holt (D-NJ) attempted to increase general science funding in the House Budget Resolution (the counterpart to the Senate resolution considered last night) but was unsuccessful, as the House voted along party lines.

It was the willingness of the Senate to break from party line voting that made last night's action significant. The amendment to increase this "Function 250" funding was offered by Senator Christopher Bond (R-MO), and was cosponsored by Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Pete Domenici (R-NM), Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Bill Frist (R-TN) and George Allen (R-VA).

In explaining his amendment, Bond, who is chairman of the House VA, HUD, Independent Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, said "I think we can all agree that research and development is a positive and critical investment for the economic and intellectual growth and well-being of our Nation." Bond's amendment added $1.44 billion over Bush's request that could be made available to NSF, NASA, and DOE. He said that he was "very supportive" of the NIH funding increases and "very concerned" that its research could be jeopardized without the adequate support of NSF research. "To be blunt, supporting NSF supports NIH," he told his colleagues. Bond's amendment would continue the doubling momentum for NSF. In discussing this amendment, Domenici cited the additional $469 million for DOE.

Mikulski, Ranking Minority Member on the subcommittee, called the President's numbers "unacceptable." She outlined the importance of basic research in all disciplines to medicine and the economy. "Federal funding for basic scientific research is absolutely necessary for economic growth and job creation," she said. "With all that is confronting us, now is precisely the wrong time to cut funding for scientific research," Mikulski added. In describing the amendment, Bingaman said that "it would try to bring funding for research and development in the physical sciences on a par with the funding for the research and development that is pursued in the life sciences through" NIH.

In addition to this successful Senate action, there were other developments. Earlier this week, thirteen Republican and Democratic members of the House Science Committee wrote to House Appropriations Committee Chairman Bill Young (R-FL) asking him to consider making funding for the science agencies a high priority, especially that for NSF. "Failure to bolster our support for the basic sciences would be a mistake," they warned. Included with their letter was the Bromley editorial. The signatories of this letter were: Research Subcommittee Chairman Nick Smith (R-MI); Subcommittee Ranking Minority Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX); Environment, Technology and Standards Subcommittee Chairman Vern Ehlers (R-MI); Science Committee Ranking Minority Member Ralph Hall (D-TX); Energy Subcommittee Chairman Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD); Mark Udall (D-CO); Tim Johnson (R-IL); Lynn Rivers (D-MI); Judy Biggert (R-IL); Shelia Jackson Lee (D-TX); Ken Calvert (R-CA); Environment Subcommittee Ranking Minority Member James Barcia (D-MI) and Constance Morella (R-MD).

Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson introduced legislation on Wednesday to authorize the doubling of the National Science Foundation budget over the period 2001-2005. Johnson is the Ranking Minority Member on the Research Subcommittee. In describing her bill, H.R. 1472, Johnson said, "The question, rather, is what ought to be the level of the Federal research investment? The bill I am introducing takes the position that it is too low in the President's Budget Blueprint, particularly for basic research in the fields for which NSF is a major funding agency: the physical sciences, mathematics, and engineering." This bill provides for a 15% annual increase for NSF from FY 2002-2005. The Johnson bill has sixteen Democratic cosponsors from the House Science Committee.

The senators and representatives named above have spoken up in support of science and technology, and their efforts should be recognized and acknowledged. Despite these early encouraging signs about the FY 2002 budget, the old adage, "Don't count your chickens before they're hatched," is particularly apt. The President is largely setting the fiscal pace for half the members of the House and Senate, and the budget which he sends to Congress on Monday is almost certainly going to call for flat or almost flat funding for science programs. Competition for funding in the appropriations bills is going to be especially strong this year. Vocal constituents are likely to be successful constituents.

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