First Look at R&D in Budget Reconciliation Legislation

The House of Representatives is making quick work of their Budget Reconciliation bills and for good reason. Speaker Pelosi (D-CA) has set September 15th as the deadline for all the House committees to complete work on their assorted draft legislation. With a very short window open to handle such a complex package of bills, the committees are moving at a breakneck pace.

To that end, we are getting our first insights into how research agencies will fare during this process. Last week the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee held a markup of their $45 billion portion of the overall bill. Highlights of the legislation for the agencies of most importance to the research community:

– $11 billion for NSF, of which $7.5 billion is for research and education programs and $3.4 billion is for infrastructure projects, including $1 billion for projects based at academic institutions with a $300 million carveout for HBCUs and MSIs.

– $12.8 billion for DOE Office of Science, for projects, programs, and facilities. There are several projects and programs specific for computing that are called out, with exascale and QIS getting noticeable attention.

– $1.2 billion is for NIST research and $1B for NIST infrastructure.

– $4.4 billion for NASA, of which $4 billion is for facilities repair and modernization with most of the remainder for projects related to climate change research, sustainable aviation, and wildfire preparedness.

While this wasn’t bipartisan, with the committee’s Ranking Member Frank Lucas (R-OK) mentioning multiple times that the budget reconciliation process is rushed and irresponsible, there also were no attempts by the minority party to cut down funding amounts during the amendment process. In fact, there were several bipartisan amendments accepted on voice votes (though there were many more Republican amendments voted down). This is likely to be as bipartisan as it will get though; the bill was passed on a party-line vote of 21 yeas to 17 nays.

To make clear, this is money being appropriated for Fiscal Year 2022 (ie: the next fiscal year, which starts on Oct 1st). While this is new money, in addition to the regular FY22 process, that may create some problems down the line. The concern within the policy community is that these outlays are so large that there is a likelihood that money could be withheld during regular appropriations in later years. But that is speculative right now, with specific impacts TBD.

In terms of procedure, once the committees have completed their work, they send their bills to the House Budget Committee, who will then package all the bills together for the full House of Representatives to vote on. Once the package passes the House, the Senate would take it up. The rules for a reconciliation bill mean that the time for debate is limited, and the filibuster cannot be used (ie: it’s subject to only a majority vote), so it will be voted on.

But keep in mind, this is still a very fluid and contentious process. For example, Senator Manchin (D-WV), one of the swing votes in the Senate, has called for a “strategic pause” to the whole process. Senator Manchin is concerned with passing such a large increase in spending, citing its impact on the national debt and inflation. If he follows through with his opposition, this could easily sink the entire endeavor and have a spillover effect that could scuttle the infrastructure deal. Keep in mind, Congressional Republicans are united in opposition to this and, with a Senate that is evenly divided, one switched vote can doom the entire process. This is far from a done deal.

We will be keeping track of developments and will report back when there is news, so please keep checking back.

First Look at R&D in Budget Reconciliation Legislation