Status Report

AIP FYI #122: Crunch-Time: Troubled FY 2005 Funding Bills

By SpaceRef Editor
September 14, 2004
Filed under , ,

“The crunch that we all knew was coming has arrived,” House
Appropriations Committee Chairman C.W. Bill Young (R-FL) declared
earlier this summer when discussing the bill funding NSF and NASA.
Young’s words could be applied to many of the must-pass
appropriations bills that remain uncompleted with a little more than
two weeks left until the start of the new fiscal year.

There are so many obstacles to final passage of these appropriations
bills that it is difficult to know where to start. For instance,
last week Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations
Subcommittee Chairman Pete Domenici (R-NM) cancelled plans to mark
up his FY 2005 bill which funds the DOE Office of Science. The
reason is a common one: lack of money. In this case, there is a
$750 million gap between what the House approved in its version of
this appropriations bill for the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste
repository and the amount that the Bush Administration requested.
Efforts to find a funding mechanism acceptable to the House, Senate,
Bush Administration and the utility industry have failed. “Things
are looking terrible,” Domenici said.

As bad as Domenici’s problems are, those besetting the $128 billion
VA, HUD and Independent Agencies Appropriations Subcommittees are
even worse. None of the major constituencies favors the bill which
the House Appropriations Committee passed this summer. This bill
contains a 2.0% cut in next year’s funding for the National Science
Foundation, as contrasted with the 3.0% increase sought by the Bush
Administration and the 15% increase recommended by the Coalition for
National Science Funding, the leading advocacy group for the NSF (to
which AIP and several of its Member Societies belong.) While the
committee voted a 6% increase in appropriated funding in the
Veterans Administration health budget, there are complaints that
this amount is $1.5 billion short of what is needed.

The appropriation for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban
Development in the VA, HUD bill did no better. While the committee
included a 3.5% increase for housing for the poor, the rest of HUD’s
programs were cut by around 4%. The Environmental Protection Agency
saw the greatest cut – 7% – in its budget, primarily for water
pollution control funding.

Making the VA, HUD bill very problematic is NASA funding. The
appropriations committee’s bill includes a cut of 1.5% in the
agency’s budget. This is 7% below the Administration’s request, an
amount so low that OMB Director Joshua Bolten said he would
recommend that the bill be vetoed. If that threat was not enough,
House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX), who represents the district
where many NASA employees live, said earlier this summer that the
bill will not get to the House floor for a vote unless $1.1 billion
is added for the space agency.

Other less contentious bills are starting to move through the Senate
appropriations committee. The committee has acted or will act on
six appropriations bills this week, including the Labor, HHS bill
funding NIBIB and the Department of Education’s Math-Science
Partnerships; the Commerce bill funding NIST; and the Interior bill
funding USGS. No mark up schedule has been announced for the bills
funding DOE, NSF, and NASA.

Optimists on Capitol Hill still hope to complete work on many of the
remaining twelve appropriations bills (DOD is complete) by the
target October 8th (or possibly 14th) adjournment date. If this
does not occur, those bills that are nearing completion might be
rolled into one large omnibus bill. This approach has been used to
varying degrees in previous sessions of Congress.

Looming over all of this is the distinct possibility that Congress
will head home for the November 2 presidential election after
passing a bill that continues funding at the existing rate for those
departments or agencies for which an appropriations bill has not
been passed. Under this plan, Congress would return for a lame duck
session after the election. Some even predict that funding would be
continued until January, and perhaps much longer, leaving the next
session of Congress to complete the work that this Congress could
not do. The appropriations committees’ chairmen are against this,
as they will be forced to step aside at the end of this session
because of term limitations. Other fiscally-conservative members
would not be displeased with a months-long continuing resolution,
seeing it as a way to restrain federal spending.

Richard M. Jones

Media and Government Relations Division

The American Institute of Physics

(301) 209-3094

SpaceRef staff editor.