Congress Remains Deeply Divided on FY 2014 Spending

The House and Senate remain far apart on energy and environment spending as Congress reconvenes this month. [AAAS R&D Budget and Policy Program]

As part of the broader chasm separating the two parties on federal spending and R&D, the House of Representatives is backing particularly significant spending cuts in environmental and energy programs as the U.S. Congress reconvenes on 9 September.

The House appropriations bills for fiscal year 2014 target spending at the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Forest Service and the Department of Energy's low-carbon energy initiatives. Overall, the House's funding for nondefense R&D would fall 11.6 percent below the Senate's proposed budget.

If passed, bills in both chambers would continue a long-term declining trend in R&D spending, according to an updated FY 2014 appropriations report from AAAS's R&D Budget and Policy Program. Between fiscal year 2010 and the 2013 budget sequestration, federal R&D spending has plummeted by 16.3 percent.

It's unlikely, however, that any of the appropriations bills will be passed by the full House and Senate before the current fiscal year funding runs out on 30 September.

"A continuing resolution to extend fiscal year 2013 appropriations partway into fiscal year 2014 is virtually guaranteed, to avoid a shutdown" of the federal government, said Matt Hourihan, director of the AAAS R&D Budget and Policy Program. "After that comes the real negotiation over spending, taxes and the debt ceiling, and the outcome of that is anyone's guess."

The largest disparities between the House and Senate appropriations come in funding for water and energy, including a stark funding gap between the two chambers for the Department of Energy's energy technology programs. The House would shift funding away from the department's carbon capture and natural gas development programs and make deep cuts to most other low-carbon technology programs, while the Senate would support these programs at or near the president's requested budget levels.

The House would also cut the Environmental Protection Agency's discretionary budget by 34 percent, in keeping with its proposals to halt EPA initiatives, such as the regulation of carbon pollution at new and existing power plants, that make up part of the president's climate action plan.

Other areas of contention include funding for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Earth Science programs, climate programs within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the U.S. Forest Service, where the House has proposed cutting in half the budget for forest and rangeland research.

In the March 2013 appropriations continuing resolution, Senator Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma) added an amendment prohibiting the National Science Foundation from funding political science research that does not "promote the national security or the economic interests of the United States." Similar language prohibiting this type of funding does not appear in either the House or Senate FY 2014 bills.

The AAAS report concludes that federal agencies are unlikely to see their discretionary budgets rise again to pre-sequestration levels in the near future.

"Sequestration was intended to be the 'gun to the head' of the two parties, to prompt a smarter, broader budget deal," Hourihan said. "Clearly, the gun wasn't big enough. For R&D funding, unless the fiscal politics change, fiscal year 2014 could end up looking quite a bit like fiscal year 2013."

Read the updated analyses at the AAAS R&D Budget and Policy Program page.

View sequestration resources collected by the AAAS Office of Government Relations.