Transportation, Agriculture, Veterans Spending Bills See Congressional Movement

In the first of two busy weeks in both chambers' appropriations committees, appropriators tackled spending bills dealing with the Departments of Transportation, Agriculture, and Veterans Affairs.

On Wednesday, the House Appropriations Committee approved the FY 2015 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and related agencies bill on a 28-21 vote. According to AAAS estimates, the bill would provide $810 million for R&D funding at the Department of Transportation (DOT), $63 million or 7.2 percent below FY 2014 levels, and $88 million or 9.8 percent below the Administration's request. The Committee declined the Administration's request for increased funding for highway R&D, intelligent transportation systems research, and high-performance rail R&D. The Committee did provide a slight boost above the request to the NextGen program, the Federal Aviation Administration's flagship technology initiative.

On Thursday, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved the FY 2015 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs bill and the Agriculture bill, both unanimously. In the military construction bill, Veterans Affairs (VA) research funding would reach $1.2 billion in FY 2015, matching both the request and the House version of the bill, which passed the full House last month. The figure would represent a $5 million or 0.4 percent increase above FY 2014 levels.

In the Senate Agriculture bill, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) R&D would reach $2.1 billion in FY 2015, per AAAS estimates. This would represent a $54 million or 2.6 percent increase above FY 2014 levels, and would essentially match the request; these figures exclude Forest Service R&D, which is appropriated in a different bill. The Senate Committee would grant an increase above the request for the intramural Agricultural Research Service and a reduction for the extramural National Institute of Food and Agriculture, though the Committee would match the request for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), the competitive grants program, at $325 million.

House appropriators tackled their own FY 2015 Agriculture bill last week, though only at the subcommittee level. The House bill is somewhat less generous than the Senate bill, providing only a sub-inflation 1 percent increase above FY 2014 levels for USDA R&D, per AAAS estimates. The bill passed the Agriculture subcommittee on a voice vote, and will be marked up by the full House Appropriations Committee on Thursday, May 29.

Finally, the Senate Appropriations Committee passed its 302(b) allocations for FY 2015 last Thursday. These allocations set the spending caps for each appropriations subcommittee. The Senate Committee allocated somewhat less than the House Committee for agriculture, defense, homeland security, and interior and environment, and somewhat more for energy, labor and health (which includes NIH), and transportation.