Shutdown Ended, Debt Ceiling Avoided as Next Round of Negotiations Await

Congress reaches a short-term deal to end the shutdown.

Late last night the House of Representatives approved the deal, passed by the Senate earlier in the day, to end the shutdown and avoid a breach in the debt ceiling. The deal establishes a continuing resolution (CR) to keep government open until January 15, and raises the debt ceiling until February 7. Over that three-month period, the CR extends funding at FY 2013 levels totaling $986 billion. The bill also will finally lead to a budget conference committee, made up of Democrats and Republicans, which will endeavor to work out a broader budget deal and reconcile the major differences between the House- and Senate-passed budgets from earlier in the year. The conference committee's job will not be easy given these differences (see analyses from the Bipartisan Policy Center on the House and Senate budgets for more), and failure could mean another shutdown come January.

Other language, carried over from previous CR proposals, would ensure NOAA has the funds to keep the Joint Polar Satellite System and the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite system on schedule. Additionally, authority for the Department of Homeland Security to enter R&D agreements with external nontraditional partners would be extended, and funding is provided for the public health emergency-oriented Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority.

For science funding, of course, one big question is still the overall level of discretionary spending in FY 2014. As we've explained elsewhere, while the CR extends FY 2013 funding levels temporarily, funding in FY 2014 must eventually come down by another 2 percent or so (primarily via cuts on the defense spending side), to arrive at the $967 billion post-sequester spending cap put in place by the Budget Control Act. The House has embraced this funding level, while Senate has adopted the pre-sequester funding level, about $91 billion higher. Because of this gap — with the House about nine percent below the Senate — R&D appropriations outcomes have been strikingly divergent (see our review for more).

Grappling with this discretionary spending limit will be an important element of the negotiations. Leaving discretionary spending capped where it is will likely drive that part of the budget to historical lows, perCBO; and since R&D tends to be a steady share of discretionary spending, it stands to reason that the current caps will also drive federal R&D to an all-time low as a share of the economy. Democrats and some Republicans want at least a partial rollback of the sequester cuts, but to take such a step will likely require some concessions on both sides. Some additional links: