Science & Technology in Congress
The House of Representatives approved its FY 1998 budget resolution (H. Con. Res. 84) early in the morning of May 21. The Senate approved its nearly identical version of the resolution on May 23. A final compromise resolution still has to be drafted and approved by both houses after the Memorial day recess. The budget resolution, a blueprint for balancing the federal budget in FY 2002, is based on the agreement reached by the President and the congressional leadership a few weeks ago. The budget resolution serves as a guide for Congress in drawing up the appropriations, tax, and entitlements bills that will actually implement a balanced budget, and is important for science and technology because it sets spending limits for discretionary accounts for the coming fiscal year and a trajectory for future years.
The federal deficit is expected by the Congressional Budget Office to total only $67 billion in FY 1997, meaning that the job of balancing the budget is almost complete. (On May 21, the Department of the Treasury announced higher-than-expected April tax revenues, meaning that the deficit could be even lower, in the $60 billion range). As recently as FY 1994, the deficit was $203 billion. The budget resolution, however, calls for the deficit to rise over the next three years before falling to $53 billion in FY 2001 and then to balance in FY 2002. This is because spending increases and tax cuts would kick in immediately, while most of the spending cuts will have to be enacted by the 107th Congress and the next President.
The budget deal would, as past budget plans have done, achieve more than half of its net deficit reduction from cuts in discretionary spending. Discretionary spending, which funds defense and all non-entitlement domestic programs (including all federal support for R&D), currently accounts for a third of the federal budget. It would dip below 30 percent by FY 2002 under the budget plan because of continued, unchecked growth in most entitlement programs.
DETAILS OF FUNCTIONAL CATEGORIES IN BUDGET RESOLUTION
All figures are in budget authority based on the House-approved budget resolution and the equivalent Senate-approved resolution.
Defense: The budget resolution's plan for defense spending is essentially the same as the President's FY 1998 request, calling for an 18 percent decline in defense R&D. This includes R&D in the Department of Defense as well as the defense activities of the Department of Energy (DOE) over the next five years. It is unclear whether the budget resolution would assign a different priority to defense R&D than the President's budget, but there appears to be a bipartisan consensus to emphasize procurement and readiness spending over R&D.
Nondefense (all other functions): Total nondefense discretionary spending is currently $244 billion for FY 1997. The President's budget would have increased nondefense discretionary spending to $271 billion in FY 2002, but the budget resolution would set nondefense discretionary at $261 billion in FY 2002, a nearly 6 percent cut from this year's level after adjusting for expected inflation. Adding to the pressure on domestic programs is the need to set aside most of the additional money for renewals of expiring housing assistance contracts over the next several years. While spending on transportation, education, and housing would rise, spending on other functional categories would fall, even before adjusting for inflation. For FY 1998, there would be $13 billion less than the President's request. Some key nondefense functions:
GENERAL SCIENCE, SPACE, AND TECHNOLOGY: This budget function comprises the National Science Foundation (NSF), most of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and the physics programs in DOE. Most of this function, except for the Space Shuttle and NSF's education activities, is classified as R&D. The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) analysis of the President's budget projected cuts in R&D in NASA (down 11.9 percent), NSF (down 7.5 percent), and DOE Physics (down 11.2 percent) by FY 2002 after adjusting for inflation. The cuts are even steeper under the budget resolution targets because the resolution allocates $2 billion less over five years than the President's budget for this function. The resolution calls for a FY 1998 allocation of $16.2 billion, which is $240 million less than the President's request. This leaves little room for the 7 percent increase to NSF that House authorizers and many in the scientific community have called for.
COMMERCE AND HOUSING CREDIT: The Department of Commerce's National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is the only R&D program singled out as a "protected domestic discretionary priority" in the budget agreement, and funded at the President's requested level. The NIST laboratory program would be cut by 5.4 percent by FY 2002, and NIST's Advanced Technology Program (ATP) would receive a 63 percent increase in the President's budget request. It is unclear whether the report language intends to include ATP with NIST's other programs as a protected priority.
HEALTH: The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is funded in this function. The budget resolution would spend $2.8 billion less over five years than the President's budget, resulting in a 15 percent cut in real terms by FY 2002. Because the NIH budget accounts for more than half of the discretionary spending ($13 billion out of $25 billion in FY 1997) in this function, the resolution leaves no room for any additions to the NIH budget unless there are unprecedented cuts in the non-NIH programs in this function, such as the Centers for Disease Control, Ryan White and other HIV programs, and food and worker safety programs. The FY 1998 allocation for this function is $150 million below the FY 1997 level, leaving no room for even the President's requested 2.7 percent increase for NIH, much less the 7 percent or greater increases called for by key Members of Congress. In fact, the President's budget would lead to a projected 8.2 percent cut in NIH's R&D over the next five years. Although the Senate approved (98-0) an amendment expressing the "Sense of the Senate" that the federal investment in biomedical research should double over the next five years, the amendment allocated no additional funds.
Although it is impossible to project total federal R&D based on the budget resolution,if it were followed, there would be cuts significantly greater than the 14 percent decrease in federal R&D funds by FY 2002 projected from the President's latest budget.
The budget resolution's allocations, though important as a guide for appropriations committees in dividing up the total pool of discretionary spending, are binding only for FY 1998. The allocations for the outyears will be revisited each year to adjust for changing economic conditions and changing priorities. Even for FY 1998, appropriators will have some freedom to shift funds between functions if programs serving different functions are in the same appropriations bill. For example, health (NIH), education, and labor training programs are funded in the same appropriations bill.
After approval of the final budget resolution in June, the Appropriations Committees of the House and the Senate will use the functional allocations in the budget resolution to make their 602(b) allocations, which divide the total amount of discretionary spending for FY 1998 among the 13 appropriations bills. The House, and then the Senate, will then allocate funds among individual programs in each of the 13 appropriations bills.
Updates on federal R&D in FY 1998 appropriations are available on the World Wide Web at http://www.aaas.org/spp/dspp/rd/rdwwwpg.htm.