In recent weeks, House committees have made significant progress on the $3.5 trillion reconciliation package, a massive and controversial legislative effort embodying many of the Democrats’ major priorities. On the science front, the current House package includes billions for research, innovation, and the construction and modernization of research infrastructure. It also includes billions more for areas like climate solutions and pandemic response, two common threads across the assorted reconciliation proposals.
There’s a long way to go before any of it becomes law. The full package has not yet been assembled and adopted in the House (though things are moving), while the Senate must still issue its own set of proposals amid nagging disagreements. The reality of current politics suggests the possibility – even likelihood – that the final reconciliation package will have to shrink from the $3.5 trillion level if it is to become law. Thus, the mammoth House package summarized below is a first step rather than a final deal.
What is Reconciliation?
Most legislation is subject to filibuster in the Senate, which requires 60 votes to overcome. “Reconciliation” is a special legislative procedure that allows spending and tax legislation to bypass the filibuster and get through the Senate with a simple majority, without minority party votes. Both parties have used it, and this time it’s the Democrats’ turn to enact their agenda, as they have once already this year.
By its very nature, the process itself is controversial even if individual policies or spending line items are not. But the disputes over Democrats’ latest reconciliation plans have not fallen purely along party lines, and major disagreements over the price tag are taking place within the party.
While leaders had initially seemed to settle on $3.5 trillion (for a sense of scale, federal outlays the year before the pandemic were about $4.5 trillion, and the deficit was about $1 trillion), moderate members have expressed reservations due to macroeconomic or policy concerns. Intra-party conflict seems to have thrown the entire agenda into doubt.
Per the normal reconciliation mechanics, individual committees are tasked with making spending recommendations for agencies and programs within their respective jurisdiction. Thus, the highlights below are organized by committee. Note that these amounts are in addition to any funding provided during the FY 2022 appropriations cycle, which is ongoing; see the latest appropriations numbers here. Note also that most funding amounts below are multiyear.
Science, Space and Technology Committee
The House Science committee's research-heavy allocation amounted to $45 billion, with substantial portions devoted to the Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation, NASA, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Department of Energy (DOE). Roughly one third of the committee’s package, or $15.6 billion, would be allocated to DOE, with $12.8 billion of that going to DOE’s basic research arm, the Office of Science (SC). The bulk of SC funding ($10.8 billion) is for research infrastructure, with dozens of large- and small-scale construction and equipment projects throughout the national lab system receiving support. That includes $1.2 billion for exascale computing systems, or systems that can produce 10^18 computations per second, with the Aurora and Frontier supercomputer projects each receiving over $400 million. Other large allocations include $1.3 billion each for the ITER fusion energy project and Fermilab’s Long Baseline Neutrino Facility / Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (which per Science reporting is facing substantial cost overruns), and $806 million for Brookhaven’s Electron Ion Collider. SC’s $2 billion for research projects have a primary focus on fusion research, though computational graduate fellowships and quantum resources also receive support.
DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) would receive $1.8 billion total under the package, for a mix of low-carbon demonstration projects and research infrastructure, as well as $70 million to establish a new clean energy manufacturing institute. The package also includes $500 million for nuclear energy, primarily for the Advanced and Versatile Test Reactors.
National Science Foundation (NSF). NSF would receive $11 billion, $7.6 billion of which is for new and existing research awards, scholarships, fellowships, and tech transfer. Some undefined portion of this would also be devoted to a new technology and innovation directorate, the establishment of which has been the subject of extended legislative proceedings. $400 million is carved out for research on climate change and wildfires, and $700 million for research at minority-serving institutions including historically black colleges (HBCUs) and tribal colleges. Of NSF’s $3.4 billion research infrastructure allocation, $1 billion is set aside for university facilities modernization, including $300 million for the modernization of academic research facilities at HBCUs, tribal colleges and other MSIs.
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The package provides $4 billion for improving and modernizing NASA infrastructure and $388 million for climate change research, including $50 million for wildfire R&D and $225 million for sustainable aeronautics.
National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). The committee’s largest focus was on NIST’s advanced manufacturing activities, with $1 billion for the Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership, a network of centers to assist small and medium-size manufacturers with production and technical capabilities; $850 million for advanced manufacturing R&D and testbeds; and $150 million for a new semiconductor manufacturing innovation institute. In addition, the committee provided $1.2 billion for R&D into standard NIST topics like AI, cybersecurity, quantum, biotech, communications, climate and resilience; and $1 billion for research facilities.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). NOAA would receive $4.3 billion for an array of activities. The largest allocations include $1.2 billion for weather, ocean, and climate research and forecasting and $1 billion for hurricane aircraft acquisition, as well as funding for research infrastructure, climate resilience activities, uncrewed systems, and phased array radar.
See reporting by ScienceInsider for more.
Natural Resources Committee
The committee’s $26 billion package would provide $3.6 billion for the launch of a Civilian Climate Corps, a new multi-agency program proposed by the Biden Administration to employ civilian workers to combat climate change.
The U.S. Geological Survey would also receive an increase for climate change work, with $100 million for the Climate Adaptation Science Centers which team up researchers with natural and cultural resource managers in local communities to help them mitigate and adapt to new conditions. The agency would also receive $50 million for the 3D Elevation Program, and $75 million for Water Resources Research and Technology Institutes, a state-federal partnership to facilitate research into local water problems.
$2.5 billion would be allocated for abandoned mine cleanup by the Bureau of Land Management, which aims to reduce or eliminate the environmental impact of previous hardrock mining in the western United States.
$9.5 billion would be allocated for restoration of marine, estuarine, coastal or Great Lakes habitats.
Energy & Commerce Committee
The Energy & Commerce Committee received a nearly $500 billion allocation in the reconciliation instructions (see a section-by-section summary of the initial package, though some of these figures have changed in the final version). One of the notable elements in the package is the $150 billion Clean Electricity Performance Program, which uses federal grants and penalties to push utilities to achieve 80% of electricity from clean sources by 2030. Tens of billions were also allocated to a broad array of emissions reduction programs and initiatives in a variety of areas including vehicles, schools, ports, railyards, manufacturing, and other grants for zero-emissions technology deployment.
In addition to billions more for health system capacity, institutions, teaching, and capital projects, the Energy & Commerce package would make substantial investments in public health research and pandemic preparedness. Notable elements include:
- $5 billion for renovation, expansion, and modernization of state, local, and CDC public health laboratories
- $1.3 billion to improve vaccine confidence, programs, and rates
- $1 billion to strengthen early warning systems and disease surveillance and $500 million for related data system modernization and workforce competencies
- $8 billion to prepare for future pandemics. This includes $3 billion for the National Strategic Stockpile, $2 billion for expanded vaccine production capacity, $2 billion for the pandemic supply chain, $500 million for the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, and $500 million for research facility modernization to increase biosafety and biosecurity.
- $3 billion for the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health or ARPA-H, a new NIH research office. The Administration requested $6.5 billion for ARPA-H as part of its budget request, and the office has received another $3 billion in House appropriations (Senate numbers are yet to be determined).
- $1 billion total for an array of programs on maternal health and mortality, including $50 million for minority-serving institutions to study maternal mortality, morbidity, and adverse health outcomes, and $15 million for the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development for research on mitigating COVID-19 effects on pregnant or postpartum women, particularly minorities.
Other funding includes $10 billion for critical manufacturing supply chain resilience.
A significant part of the Agriculture reconciliation bill concerns forest fires, with $10 billion for hazardous fuels reduction programs, $2 billion for vegetation management, $9 billion for forest restoration and resilience, $1 billion for wildfire protection plans and $1 billion for the Wood Innovation program (which works toward a more sustainable wood energy market) amongst $40 billion overall for forestry projects.
The bill’s roughly $8 billion in USDA research program funding has a heavy focus on climate change. For instance, the Agricultural Research Service would receive $250 million, the U.S. Forest Service would receive $250 million, the Economic Research Service would receive $45 million, and the National Agricultural Statistics Service would receive $54 million, almost all of it for research related to climate and emissions.
By far the largest funding recipient of USDA’s research offices would be the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), which would receive $6.3 billion for an array of line items, many with a climate focus. Some of these include:
- $2.7 billion for agricultural research facilities grants
- Another $986 million for such grants at 1890 and 1994 land-grant institutions (HBCUs and tribal colleges), and other minority-serving institutions
- $100 million for university research equipment grants
- $500 million each for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), a competitive grants program, and the Sustainable Agriculture Program
- $200 million each for organic agriculture and specialty crop research
- $190 million for scholarships at 1890 institutions
The Committee would also provide $540 million for the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research and $380 million for climate research through the Agriculture Advanced Research and Development Authority (AgARDA), a new office established in the 2018 farm bill, but not yet funded, to pursue high-risk, transformational research with DARPA-style administrative flexibilities.
Transportation & Infrastructure Committee
The committee’s $60 billion package included a mix of housing, transportation, infrastructure, and climate investments. This would include $2.5 billion for resilience in U.S. ports and the related supply chain, and $4 billion for surface transportation emissions reduction. It would also include $100 million for noise- and emissions-reduction technology and climate resilience in the maritime sector.
Another $1 billion would be provided for grants and cost-sharing agreements with states, industry, universities, and other entities to advance alternative aviation fuels and low-emission aviation technology research.
The committee would also provide $788 million for Coast Guard acquisition of a fourth polar icebreaker along with berthing and lab facilities, which alongside security missions will help to facilitate weather and climate research, and $1 billion for climate resilient Coast Guard infrastructure.
Other Committee Notes
The Small Business Committee would include $400 million for the Growth Accelerator Competition, intended to help startups with a STEM / R&D focus, and $675 million to build a support ecosystem for STEM entrepreneurs.
The Education and Labor Committee would provide $2 billion for improving research infrastructure at minority-serving institutions.
The Homeland Security Committee would provide $865 million for a variety of critical infrastructure activities by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.