Status Report

AIP FYI #145: First Things First: Congress Attempts to Wrap-Up FY 2005 Budget Bills

By SpaceRef Editor
November 10, 2004
Filed under , ,

When Congress returns to Washington next Tuesday it will attempt to
do what it has been unable to accomplish during the preceding
months: pass nine appropriations bills for the fiscal year that is
now more than five weeks old. While there has been success in
ironing out differences between the House and Senate and White House
in some of these bills, the outlook on two bills of greatest
interest to the physics and astronomy community – those funding the
Department of Energy, NSF, and NASA – remains very unsettled.

In theory, last week’s election should make the going a little
easier. With the electorate’s decision to return President Bush to
the White House and to increase Republican control in the House and
Senate, the appropriations cycle does not have to contend with
inside-the-beltway strategizing about the optimal political time to
pass these bills. For the lame duck session scheduled for the
eight-day period of November 16 through the 23, the same key players
will be in place on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.

Two numbers are important to breaking this appropriations’
deadlock. The first is $821.9 billion, which is the amount of
discretionary money that the White House and congressional leaders
have agreed to spend in FY 2005. The second number is $8 billion,
which is the total of various bookkeeping dodges that Senate leaders
have employed to work around that $821.9 billion limit. While these
dodges have made it possible to write a Senate funding bill that is
more favorable to NSF and NASA, as an example, fiscal conservatives
in the House and White House have indicated their great displeasure
with such tactics.

The FY 2005 VA, HUD, and Independent Agencies bill is very
problematic. In order to get the Senate bill out of committee,
appropriators designated $2 billion as “emergency” spending for VA
health care and NASA, money that did not count against the spending
cap. An additional $2 billion in HUD funding was shuffled around
the spending ceiling. With this extra money, Senate appropriators
also were able to provide NSF with the requested 3% increase.
Fiscal conservatives, at least at this point in time, are not buying
this approach. Yet House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) is so
disgruntled with the House bill that kept to the spending ceiling,
but also came in with a low NASA number, that he has not let the
committee’s bill that was passed on July 22 come to the floor for a

The FY 2005 Energy and Water Development bill is even more
troubled. Senator Pete Domenici’s (R-NM) subcommittee has not even
released a bill. Funding for the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste
repository is a major hurdle. The Bush Administration requested
$880 million, far more than the $131 million in the House-passed
bill. Domenici supports taking $749 million every year from a
federal trust that has been funded by the nuclear industry, as well
as imposing an additional $446 million from the nuclear utilities as
a one-time surcharge. In addition, the House bill and the
presumptive Domenici bill are going to be at loggerheads about the
funding of the Administration’s nuclear weapons initiatives.

Appropriations bills are called “must-pass bills” for a good reason,
as they must be enacted to continue the operations of a federal
department or agency. In order to get these bills passed before
President Bush sends his next budget to Congress, it is expected, as
has been done in the last two years, that a select group of key
individuals in Congress and the Administration will roll these bills
into a single omnibus bill, making policy and budget decisions along
the way. The bill’s total funding will then be made to conform to
the spending target by an across-the-board reduction in all of the
budgets within the bill. There is one caveat to this strategy:
budget and policy differences in the Energy and Water Development
appropriations bill are so great that it may not make it into the
omnibus bill to be passed in less than two weeks. In that case,
current funding levels – those dating back to the last fiscal year –
will continue for the Department of Energy, and for how long, is
anyone’s guess.

Richard M. Jones

Media and Government Relations Division

The American Institute of Physics

(301) 209-3094

SpaceRef staff editor.