The deal on the debt limit recently signed into law by President Obama could mean leaner times for the nation’s federally supported research, science education, and environmental programs.

Under the terms of the Budget Control Act of 2011 (Public Law 112-25), more than $900 billion will be cut from discretionary spending over the next decade. Discretionary spending accounts are the source for government spending that supports military, foreign aid, highways, research and development, conservation, and almost all other government programs with the notable exceptions of entitlement programs, such as Social Security, Medicare, and a few other programs.

Many lawmakers and policy experts do not expect environmental programs to fare well, given the current political climate on Capitol Hill. Representative Mike Simpson (R-ID), who serves as the Chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior and Environment, told reporters that the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of the Interior must brace for leaner times: “They won’t have growing budgets, that’s just the reality. Nobody will have growing budgets.”

These cuts could be exacerbated by additional reductions that could be proposed by a bicameral, bipartisan congressional committee charged with identifying $1.2-$1.5 trillion in additional savings by the end of the year. If this committee fails to identify these savings or if the panel’s plan is not signed into law, then automatic across-the-board budget cuts would begin to be made to discretionary and defense/security accounts in order to permit another debt ceiling increase.

Although the outlook is austere, some have found a small consolation in the shorter-term fiscal picture. The debt deal is much kinder to discretionary spending over the next two years than many expected. Funding for fiscal years (FY) 2012 and 2013 would remain essentially unchanged from last year. This is $24 billion higher than the House-passed budget for FY 2012, which could provide the Senate an opportunity to modestly increase current spending above the levels set by the House.


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