On June 10th, the Senate Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations Subcommittee approved their Fiscal Year 2016 funding bill, which funds, among other things, the budget for the National Science Foundation. The bill was passed on a bipartisan basis in the subcommittee, with only three votes (out of 30 total) against it. Unlike the House CJS version, this bill doesn’t include burdensome language restricting how NSF can spend their allocated funds. However, the bill does flat fund the agency for FY16. That will translate into a cut, once inflation is taken into account, but given the budget environment in Congress, this outcome is middle of the road.
The bill provides for $7.34 billion for the National Science Foundation for Fiscal Year 2016. That is $430 thousand (yes, thousand) less than what was enacted in FY15, and $380 million less than what the President requested in his February budget request. For the Research and Related Activities (RRA) account, where most of the research funding is located at the Foundation, the committee provides $5.93 billion for FY16, which is the same as it was funded in FY15 and $253 million below the President’s request. For the most part, the budgets are flat funded in real dollars, but these translate into a cut once inflation is factored in. These numbers aren’t terribly surprising; however, they are disappointing since the CJS subcommittee has so many science champions, on both sides of the aisle, as members. Of course, another way of looking at this is that the numbers could be much lower.
However, the bill is not without its good news, and this time it concerns what isn’t in it. None of the burdensome bureaucratic language on accountability, which is in the House CJS bill, is present in its Senate counterpart. As well, there are no stipulations on NSF directorate level funding, thus sparing Geophysical Sciences and Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences Directorates cuts to their budgets. Whether the burdensome language gets included in the final bill is something that will have to get worked out in conference between the House and Senate after each passes their bill.
The bill now goes to the full committee for consideration. It is likely to pass, sometime in late June or July, and then move to the Senate floor for consideration. The bill’s future after that is in question, since Senate Democrats have threatened to filibuster all appropriations bills moving forward unless their priorities on federal spending are considered. Congressional Republicans, and Senate Majority Leader McConnell (R-KY), have vowed to move the legislature to “regular order” (i.e. passing the Federal budget bills on time) but, short of removing the filibuster rule in the Senate, there will be little-to-nothing the Republicans can do if the Democrats make good on their threat. Events will have to play out more in order to have a better idea of what the final outcome will be. Continue to follow us at the Policy Blog for future developments.