This article is published in the January 2014 issue.

Congress Ends 2013 with Budget Agreement

…that Averts Shutdown, Relaxes Sequester, Gives Hope to Researchers

Before Congress wrapped up its work for 2013 and headed home for the December holidays, House and Senate lawmakers reached an agreement on FY 2014 and FY 2015 budget numbers that would avert sequester levels by providing about $63 billion of cap relief over both years. The agreement, brokered by House Budget Chair Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senate Budget Chair Patty Murray (D-WA), provides sequester relief that includes an additional $22 billion for non-defense discretionary spending in FY 2014 and $19 billion in FY 2015, meaning that appropriators will have some added room to provide funding for federal science agencies like the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Standards and Technology and Department of Energy, should they choose to.

The agreement — adopted over objections from conservative Republicans in both chambers who felt it increased spending too much and some Democrats who felt it cut benefits for some federal programs too sharply —  averts a government shutdown in January and allow appropriators to move forward with an omnibus appropriations bill for most of the outstanding FY 2014 appropriations, something they have indicated they’ll do with 12 of the 14 bills, perhaps as soon as the second week of January. Maybe more importantly, the agreement sets the caps for FY 2015 as well, allowing appropriators to begin work on FY 2015 bills on schedule, knowing the House and Senate are working from the same set of numbers for the first time in many years, and with a reasonable expectation that they might actually get some of the bills done in regular order — something they haven’t done in nearly two decades.

There’s enough to hate in the agreement for both parties, which is a pretty good indication that it’s a decent compromise. Both Ryan and Murray spoke about the agreement as being an essential piece of Congress reasserting its power of the purse, something it had abdicated to the Administration with the sequester deal (where the Administration got to make the decisions about how the cuts fell on programs at agencies), and both emphasized that it was an important step in changing the crisis-to-crisis mode of legislating that Congress has adopted of late.

So, some good news about budget after many, many months/years of frustrating developments. We’re nowhere near out of the brutal budget climate that has pervaded for the last few years, but perhaps there’s a small bit of sanity that’s beginning to emerge. The budget compromise sets the stage for resolution of FY 2014 appropriations, which may happen as soon as mid-January, and also allows some progress on efforts to reauthorize the American COMPETES Act, legislation that authorized federal investments in research at NSF, NIST and DOE. With some certainty over the budget caps for FY 2014 and FY 2015, House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chair Lamar Smith (R-TX) is expected to add funding levels to draft legislation for the agencies, providing guidance for appropriators in FY 2014 and beyond. When those funding levels are known, or when Congress takes up the FY 2014 appropriations, we will bring you the details.

Congress Ends 2013 with Budget Agreement