The U.S. Senate is preparing to consider a package of three appropriations bills to fund a diverse array of federal programs ranging from affordable housing to fisheries management to basic research. The minibus, as the package of bills is called, includes annual funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) research programs.
The top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) noted the difficultly of abiding by the spending caps when formulating the bill. “Balancing the important yet competing interests of law enforcement, terrorism prevention, research, scientific advancement and U.S. competitiveness is always a difficult task and I believe this bill strikes that balance.”
The minibus is expected to be debated under an open amendment process, which could be key to getting Republican support for the spending package. “What we want is amendments germane to the bill, so the bills that we’re moving next week are not foreign policy bills, they’re bread-and-butter bills,” said Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD).
One program that is expected to gain unwanted attention is social science research at NSF. Since Senators are able to offer any relevant amendment to the bill, many in the science policy community anticipate that amendments will be offered to restrict funding for social science research. During House debate of the Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies 2015 Appropriations Act, numerous amendments were offered, including one to strip $15 million from NSF’s Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences Directorate.
In 2013, Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) successfully inserted a provision in a spending bill to restrict NSF’s ability to fund political science research unless the NSF director certifies that the project promotes “national security or the economic interests of the United States.”
The Senate proposes to fund NSF at the Obama administration’s requested level of $7.3 billion, which is $83 million more than fiscal year (FY) 2014. The Senate bill would provide 140 more competitive grants from NSF in 2015, according to a summary prepared by the Senate Appropriations Committee. Although the bill would increase funding in absolute terms, the Senate bill would provide $155 million less than a spending bill passed by the House of Representatives in May. The biggest difference between the two bills is research funding, as the House bill would provide 2.4 percent more funding than the Senate bill. Education programs at NSF, however, would fair slightly better under the Senate proposal.
The two chambers also differ in their proposals for NOAA. The Senate bill would provide $5.4 billion, $105 million above the current level. The House proposes to flat fund the agency at $5.3 billion.
Funding for agricultural research would increase at the USDA if the Senate bill were enacted. Intramural research would increase by $17 million for the Agricultural Research Service. The Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, USDA’s competitively awarded extramural research program, would receive $325 million, an increase of $8.5 million above FY 2014.
Last week, the House of Representatives began debate on its version of the agriculture spending bill, but stopped consideration of the legislation in the wake of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s (R-VA) primary election defeat. The chamber is not expected to return to debate of the bill until later this summer. According to CQ news service, a congressional aide said: “the problem is that GOP leadership, particularly the whipping operations, is focused on party leadership elections and not the Agriculture bill.”
The White House has issued a veto threat against the House agriculture appropriations bill. Among the concerns are a failure to fund three new research institutes on pollinator health, antibiotic resistance, and advanced manufacturing.
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