House and Senate Committees Advance Non-controversial Spending Bills

April 26, 2012

by Paula Skedsvold

The first FY 2013 spending bills are making their way through House and Senate appropriations committees. While disagreements abound about how to reduce the deficit, there is remarkable agreement on at least some spending measures. Last week, the House Commerce-Justice-Science Subcommittee marked up their bill and provided the National Science Foundation a FY 2013 budget of $7.333 billion, $299 million over FY 2012 (and $41 million below the President’s request). The bill goes before the full House Appropriations Committee today. In the Senate, the CJS appropriations bill moved through the subcommittee and full committee with an increase for NSF at $7.273 billion or $240 million over FY 2012.

House CJS Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) stated, “Given this time of fiscal crisis, it is important that Congress make tough decisions to cut spending where necessary to give priority to programs with broad national reach that have the most benefit to the American people. This legislation includes funding for some of the most critical aspects of government–the protection of our people here at home, the competitiveness of our businesses and industries, and the scientific research that will help America continue to lead the world in innovation.”
Yet, the House and Senate are proceeding from very different starting points.  The U.S. House approved the Ryan budget plan (H. Con. Res. 112) that established a $1.028 trillion discretionary spending cap for all House appropriations bills. The Senate, however, did not adopt a budget resolution because the White House and Congress agreed last year on ten-year spending caps that were then set in place through the Budget Control Act (BCA). The agreement put the FY 2013 spending cap at $1.047 trillion ($19 billion above the House budget), so Senate Appropriators allocated that amount of funding to its subcommittees. Senate Appropriations Chairman Daniel K. Inouye (D-HI), in his opening statement before the Senate Appropriations Committee, said: “In fiscal year 2010, the Committee appropriated $1.089 trillion in base discretionary funds. This year we will allocate $1.047 trillion – a reduction of $42 billion.” Building in costs for the war, disasters, emergencies and inflation amounts to a 15.5% reduction in discretionary spending compared to fiscal year 2010, he added.

While the House Appropriations Chairman tried to avoid significant cuts to appropriations bills and reportedly had argued in favor of staying with the BCA deal, the Republican leadership could not get a budget resolution passed without the cuts contained in the Ryan budget plan or alternative plans that cut even more. So Rogers proceeded in moving non-controversial appropriations bills at higher levels which could doom other spending bills later in the year.

Concerned that post-election negotiations on FY 2013 appropriations will be hampered by very different budget starting points and that non-defense spending will be required to absorb even more cuts, the White House notified House Appropriations Chairman Rogers that the President would veto any spending bills set at levels lower than that agreed to in the BCA. In the letter, OMB Acting Director Jeffrey Zients expressed concern that the non-defense discretionary part of the federal budget would be hit hard, “exactly the area where we have already cut the most.”  He stated: “These funding levels will mean deep and painful cuts in investments that America needs to succeed– in education and training, in research and development, and in clean energy and infrastructure….”

Lawmakers are also beginning to review automatic cuts due to begin in January 2013 as a result of the BCA and sequestration. The House budget resolution set into motion work by House committees to identify specific cuts as part of its larger deficit reduction plan. House Republication leaders want to replace the sequester (which they say will result in 10% cuts to defense programs and 8% to NIH) with reductions in mandatory spending. The changes under consideration include cuts to food stamps, changes in health care reform measures, and increases in federal employee retirement contributions.  The House Budget Committee will combine the committee plans into a package for House consideration in early May.

On the Senate side, Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (D-ND) is advancing a long-term plan to reduce the deficit that is based on the 2010 Bowles-Simpson plan.  That budget proposal will adhere to the limits agreed to in the BCA and may produce savings of $5.4 trillion over 10 years. The goal, according to Conrad, is to provide a starting point for post-election negotiations when Congress will face a number of spending and revenue issues such as other spending bills, expiration of the Bush tax cuts, cuts due to sequestration, and more.

Given the impact of cuts resulting from the BCA, especially sequestration, new coalitions are emerging to request that Congress take a balanced approach to deficit reduction. Since Congressional leaders have come forward to fight against significant cuts to defense, the burden on the non-defense discretionary part of the budget could be significant. To avoid this, the Non-Defense Discretionary Coalition has agreed to work together in developing a coordinated strategy to educate Congress and the public about what the non-defense discretionary part of the federal budget funds and the devastating impact of huge cuts. The groups involved in the coalition represent public health, science, education, law enforcement, environment, workforce, foreign affairs, and human rights. FABBS is participating in this coalition, and we will keep our member scientific societies abreast of any developments.