The Democratic takeover of the House has brought new leadership to the appropriations subcommittees that write spending legislation for federal science programs, while the top members of the counterpart panels in the Senate are unchanged from the previous Congress.
(Image credit – Bipartisan Policy Center)
Three weeks into the 116th Congress, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees have completed making assignments to their subcommittees. Budget outcomes for federal agencies depend heavily on decisions made within these subcommittees, and there are several that together have jurisdiction over most federal R&D spending.
With Democrats now in control of the House, Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) has become the committee chair and is the first woman to serve in the position. The ranking members of all the Appropriations subcommittees in the previous Congress have similarly each moved up into the subcommittee chair slots.
On the Republican side, there has been some reshuffling of assignments due to a few committee members’ departures from Congress. Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX) has become the committee’s top Republican, filling the spot vacated by Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ), who retired.
As Republicans retain control of the Senate, nearly all top appropriators in both parties are returning to their previous positions.
Sens. Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT), are continuing as chair and ranking member, respectively.
For more information on committee members, consult FYI’s Federal Science Leadership Tracker.
After shutdown, panels to grapple with spending caps
In the last Congress, both Appropriations Committees advanced bills that decisively rejected the Trump administration’s steep proposed cuts to R&D programs. This action was largely enabled by a bipartisan deal that raised statutory spending caps on discretionary spending.
However, statute still prescribes far tighter caps for fiscal years 2020 and 2021. Absent another budget deal, committee members will face difficult tradeoffs in balancing R&D funding against other priorities within the confines of a smaller budget. The president’s budget request for fiscal year 2020 is due for release within the next few weeks. When it appears, it will set the appropriations process in motion.
Before they can turn their attention to fiscal year 2020, though, Congress must first finalize appropriations for the agencies that have been caught up in the government shutdown. Both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees have advanced spending packages that are largely the product of bipartisan negotiations held during the previous Congress, although they take divergent approaches to border security spending. As expected, both reject the administration’s proposed cuts to R&D programs.
The bills are currently stalled, but the news today that President Trump will support a three week stopgap measure to reopen the government has raised the prospect that a window could soon open for them to proceed.
Subcommittee leaders to watch
Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) is now chair of the House Energy and Water Development Subcommittee, which has jurisdiction over the Department of Energy and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Kaptur had been ranking member of the subcommittee since 2013 and is the first woman to chair the panel. In a statement, Kaptur said she will “serve as an important check against the shortsighted efforts to gut the innovation-driven Department of Energy” and fight to increase funding for renewable energy R&D programs. At a recent event, Kaptur also expressed interest in how DOE could help address problems not directly tied to energy, suggesting that its labs could investigate how malfunctions of the nervous system contribute to mental disorders. “I think that there are ways that the work of the Department of Energy can help America that perhaps they haven't thought about before and we are there to say we appreciate you and we're going to shake you up a little bit to help America more,” she remarked.
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) returns as chair of the Senate Energy and Water Development Subcommittee. Over the past few years, Alexander has worked with Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), who returns this year as ranking member, to provide record funding levels to the DOE’s Office of Science. Alexander has long advocated doubling the office’s budget, which supports 10 of the department’s 17 national laboratories, including Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. This will be Alexander’s last two years with the gavel, as he plans to retire in 2020.
Rep. José Serrano (D-NY) is now chair of the House Commerce-Justice-Science Subcommittee, which has jurisdiction over NASA, the National Science Foundation, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, among other agencies. As subcommittee ranking member in the previous Congress, Serrano criticized the president’s proposed cuts to research programs, specifically defending NOAA’s climate science work, and said he opposed the administration’s plan to transition operations of the International Space Station to commercial entities. Serrano also successfully pushed to create a STEM education grant program for Hispanic Serving Institutions at the National Science Foundation, and he has criticized NSF’s withdrawal of funding from the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico.
Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-MI) is now the top Republican on the House Commerce-Justice-Science Subcommittee, replacing Rep. John Culberson (R-TX), who lost his reelection bid. Aderholt’s district is close to NASA’s Marshall Spaceflight Center, which has a leading role in the agency’s human space exploration program. In a statement on his appointment to the post, Aderholt said he will “work to ensure that North Alabama continues to lead as we return to the moon, put boots on Mars and travel into deep space." His thoughts on science porgrams under the committee's jurisdiction are less clear. His predecessor was an active proponent of science and space exploration funding, adding nearly $800 million to the annual budget of NASA’s Planetary Sciences Division and enthusiastically supporting proposed missions to Jupiter’s moon Europa.
Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS) returns as the chair of the Senate Commerce-Justice-Science Subcommittee, having assumed the position near the end of the prior Congress. In his brief tenure to date, Moran has spoken highly of NASA STEM education programs. As co-chair of the Senate Aerospace Caucus, he has also taken an interest in NASA’s aeronautics research portfolio.
Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA) is now the top Republican on the House Defense Subcommittee, giving up the top slot on the Interior-Environment Subcommittee to fill the seat vacated by Granger. The Defense Subcommittee oversees about half of all discretionary federal spending, including all the Department of Defense’s R&D programs. Calvert has said he plans to use his new position to address “challenges in the areas of cyber, space, AI, and in maintaining our technological superiority.” And at the Reagan National Defense Forum held late last year, Calvert spoke about his interest in increasing the number of students who pursue STEM careers.
Rep. David Joyce (R-OH) is the new ranking member of the House Interior-Environment Subcommittee, which has jurisdiction over the Interior Department and the Environmental Protection Agency. In a statement, Joyce indicated one of his top priorities will be to fund research on harmful algal blooms, which he noted have plagued the waters of the Great Lakes adjoining his district.