Congress Clears Spending Bill; Senate Restricts Political Science Research

March 22, 2013

by Paula Skedsvold

The U.S. House and Senate, eager to avoid a government shutdown, passed a spending bill that would keep the government operating for the remainder of the fiscal year. The government had been operating on a Continuing Resolution that was set to expire on March 27th. 

The bill provides funding for federal programs through September 30th. Overall funding was within the caps set by the Budget Control Act, caps agreed to by both parties in 2011 that would limit spending for ten years. Although some science agencies received a small increase in funding, the spending bill left the automatic cuts due to sequestration in place, and the cuts more than offset the increases.

H.R 933 provided funds for the National Science Foundation at $7.25 billion, an increase of $221 million over the 2012 level. With sequestration and across-the-board cuts, the NSF budget is reduced to $6.88 billion. The bill provided increases for NIH of near $71 million, but the agency will take a sequestration hit of $1.5 billion. 

One amendment, accepted on the Senate floor by voice vote, states in part:

None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to carry out the functions of the Political Science Program in the Division of Social and Economic Sciences of the Directorate for Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences of the National Science Foundation, except for research projects that the Director of the National Science Foundation certifies as promoting national security or the economic interests of the United States.

Since NSF funds fundamental science, it’s unclear what this will mean for that program–or for other areas of science in the future.

The amendment, however, was a compromise. Senator Coburn of Oklahoma originally offered an amendment that would have eliminated funding for all of political science at NSF and transferred a large portion of the funds to the National Cancer Institute. The modified amendment allowed NSF to keep funds for the program, but placed a condition on the use of them that is contrary to the mission of a basic science agency.

Unfortunately, the battles over what types of science to fund are likely to continue. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor signaled during a speech to the American Enterprise Institute that he would push for a bill that eliminates federal funding for social science research “in favor of hard science such as medical research.” While increasing funds for medical research is a very worthy goal, eliminating funding for entire areas of science, including those which contribute to knowledge about democratization, radicalization, and terrorism, is unwise and will leave the U.S. less prepared to address its urgent needs.

Congress must address the deficit and debt in a bipartisan, balanced way without doing damage to the scientific infrastructure. Fundamental research across all fields of science should be a priority for this nation. Share this message with your federal elected officials.

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