First FY 2012 Minibus Spending Package Completed – NSF Gets Increase

November 22, 2011

by Paula Skedsvold

Congress passed its first package of FY 2012 appropriations bills late last week. The “minibus” combined  three spending bills including Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) which funds NSF. The House-Senate conference agreement decreases CJS spending by $583 million from FY 2011, but provides $7 billion for NSF, an amount that is $173 million above last year’s funding.  NSF’s research account line will increase by $155 million.  The Education and Human Resources Directorate will lose $32 million from FY 2011 funding levels. Also included in the bill is funding for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy which is now slated to lose over $32 million or 32 percent from FY 2011.

The spending package also included a Continuing Resolution that extends funding for all federal programs and agencies not included in the three appropriations bills. The CR continues funding until December 16, 2011, unless Congress completes the other spending bills before this date. The new CR makes no other funding changes. Other appropriations bills such as Labor-Health and Human Services and Education are expected to present more difficult hurdles in the coming weeks since they contain provisions that do not enjoy broad bi-partisan support (e.g., health care bill).

Meanwhile, the Budget Control Act (debt ceiling deal) required both the House and Senate to vote on a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution by the end of the calendar year. The Senate has not yet voted, but the House rejected a proposal on Friday.  The Budget Control Act also established the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction or super-committee and provided a mandate of identifying $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction over the next decade. The Committee Co-Chairs announced yesterday that they could not reach agreement on a deal to reduce the deficit. Without this agreement, a sequestration process kicks in and budget cuts are automatically triggered to take effect in just over a year.

The automatic cuts will have significant implications for science funding. Overall, it will result in cuts of $1.2 trillion to discretionary spending, spread equally over 9 years beginning in Jan. 2013. Fifty percent of the cuts will be to defense and the other fifty percent will be to non-defense discretionary and mandatory programs (primarily Medicare payments and farm price supports). According to budget analysts, the cuts will amount to around $55 billion per year for 9 years for defense as well as non-defense programs. These cuts are on top of the caps on spending for the next ten years that were also part of the debt ceiling agreement this summer. 

Given the magnitude and implications of the automatic cuts, there will be calls to reverse them. Already there are efforts to pull back the automatic cuts on defense spending which could mean the rest of the discretionary budget, including federal programs that fund science, would have to absorb most or all of the cuts.