“Short-term agreement breaks through partisan gridlock and can serve as foundation for continued bipartisan work,” declared a joint statement issued earlier this week by the House and Senate Budget Committee chairmen about a plan setting overall discretionary program funding limits for FY 2014 and FY 2015. Last night the House easily passed (332-94) a budget measurement that will implement this agreement, and it is expected that the Senate will do so next week. These actions are, at long last, clearing the way for appropriators to write final funding legislation for this fiscal year.
The measure gives House Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers (R-KY) and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) a total budget of $1.012 trillion for all discretionary programs (including R&D) in FY 2014. Following the measure’s expected passage by the Senate, Rogers and Mikulski will finalize funding allocations to their subcommittees. Determining these allocations will be more difficult for some of the subcommittees, including those funding the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Department of Education, and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). In general, the total amount of funding is viewed as sufficient for the FY 2014 appropriations bills.
Appropriators will have more money to work with as compared to the limit previously set by the Budget Control Act of 2011 since the measure reduces the mandatory budget cut (sequestration) for FY 2014. The measure’s level of $1.012 trillion is roughly midway between total spending with, and without, sequestration. Non-defense discretionary spending will increase 4.8 percent to $491.8 billion compared to what it is now under sequestration. Defense discretionary spending will increase 4.5 percent to $520.5 billion compared to what it is now under sequestration.
Congress will return on January 6 after the holiday recess. Members will have little time to vote on the FY 2014 funding legislation that will be in the form of a large “omnibus” bill or several smaller consolidated bills before funding expires on January 15. The House and Senate have passed bills providing funding for the National Science Foundation, NASA, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and National Institute of Standards and Technology. That is also true for the Departments of Energy and Defense. The Senate passed a bill providing funding for the NIH and the Department of Education; no bill has been written in the House. A bill funding the USGS has not come to either floor.
While the agreement provides more funding for FY 2014 than would have been available under sequestration it will still require some difficult choices. For instance, appropriators must reduce defense-related spending by tens of billions of dollars from their preliminary plans, with there being some concern that R&D funding might be reduced to protect military personnel and related benefits.
Chairmen Rogers and Mikulski, and President Obama voiced their support for the agreement. The President called it a “good first step,” adding that the reduction in the amount of the automatic budget cut “clears the path for critical investments in things like scientific research, which has the potential to unleash new innovation and new industries.” Mikulski spoke of “investments in research and discovery that lead to life-saving cures and new ideas that lead to new products and new jobs.”
In his statement Rogers explained: “The agreement provides some certainty for the annual Appropriations process, allowing my Committee to get to work and make the hard, thoughtful, responsible, line-by-line funding decisions that are Congress’s duty to make. We have a huge challenge ahead of us -- we must craft legislation funding the entirety of the federal government in just one month. However, I know my colleagues on the House and Senate Appropriations Committees are up to the task, and I’m optimistic that we can reach a mutually acceptable deal in a timely fashion.”