Following the consideration of more than 60 amendments during three days last week, with one session lasting until 1:48 in the morning, the House of Representatives approved the FY 2016 Energy and Water Development Appropriations Bill on Friday. The bill, H.R. 2028, passed on an almost entirely party-line vote of 240-177.
The bill passed by the House remained essentially unchanged following an open floor process allowing Members to offer amendments on all sections of the bill. During the deliberations several unsuccessful amendments were brought before the House to reduce funding levels for programs of the National Nuclear Security Administration.
Rep. Bill Foster (D-IL) offered the only amendment directly pertaining to the Office of Science. The bill appropriated approximately $240 million less for the Office of Science than that requested by the Obama Administration. Foster’s amendment would have reduced funding for NNSA’s Weapons Activities by that amount, shifting this money to the Office of Science. When discussing his amendment Foster spoke of the importance of fundamental research to the development of new technologies such as the PET scan and increased R&D spending by other countries. “At a time of ongoing economic stress, we must continue to develop the next generation of the American technical workforce. As other world powers are growing and challenging our position as the global leader in science and innovation, we cannot let the number of American scientists and researchers or the quality of their research facilities diminish. Bringing the Office of Science budget up to the President’s request is crucial to maintaining that quality,” he said.
Regarding his proposal to reduce NNSA funding, Foster explained “I would also like to briefly discuss the [funding] offset, which is the NNSA Weapons Activities account. It is important for us to recognize that we need to strike the right balance between defending our country today and investing in scientific research for the future. I would argue that maintaining an advantage as the global leader in science and technology makes us much more secure than amassing and maintaining excessive numbers of nuclear weapons.”
Foster then withdrew his amendment, explaining “I understand that the majority partyhas the power to block that [full] funding [for the Office of Science] and that there will be a point of order pending against this amendment. . . . I ask unanimous consent to withdraw my amendment.” There was no additional discussion about the amendment.
On the first day of the House’s consideration of the bill there was brief discussion about the Office of Science. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) warned that the bill’s $443 million appropriation for DOE’s light sources user facilities, as compared to the $477 million Administration request, “would lead to facilities temporarily shutting down and laying off and furloughing scientific staff.” Lee said she would work to address this funding level in later negotiations with the Senate on the final bill.
Rep. Michael Honda (D-CA), who like Lee serves on the Appropriations Committee, expressed appreciation for “the inclusion language supporting development of new photonics technologies to enable exascale computing breakthroughs.” He also spoke about the importance of maintaining U.S. leadership in light sources “for the Nation’s economic well-being.” In reply, Energy and Water Development Subcommittee Chairman Mike Simpson (R-ID) told Lee and Honda “I thank you for bringing this important issue to the subcommittee’s attention. I look forward to working with Ranking Member Kaptur and all of you to support the Nation’s light source user facilities as we moved forward into conference.” Kaptur said she looked forward to working with Simpson “to support this very worthy activity.”
Action now shifts to the Senate. The Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee held a hearing on the FY 2016 request in March. The Obama Administrator announced last week its opposition to the bill because of reduced funding for several programs and, perhaps more importantly “enacting H.R. 2028, while adhering to the congressional Republican budget's overall spending limits for fiscal year (FY) 2016 would hurt our economy and shortchange investments in middle-class priorities. . . . That is why the President has been clear that he is not willing to lock in sequestration going forward, nor will he accept fixes to defense without also fixing non-defense. The President's senior advisors would recommend that he veto H.R. 2028 and any other legislation that implements the current Republican budget framework, which blocks the investments needed for our economy to compete in the future.”