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This Week in Appropriations: Cuts for Defense Science, NIST; Modest Boosts for Ag Research, NASA

The full House brought appropriations to the floor despite a budget resolution impasse, while the Senate forged ahead on their own spending bills; separate measures to fund Zika efforts emerged.

This week, the House saw its first floor action of the current appropriations cycle, passing the Military Construction-VA appropriations measure yesterday. Prior to May 15th, the House was prohibited from considering any spending bills on the floor due to their continued failure to pass a budget resolution. This is the first time in modern budget history (since 1974) that the House took up a regular appropriations bill without a budget resolution. Meanwhile, the Senate continues to advance their own appropriations in record time, passing both the VA and Transportation funding bills on the Senate floor yesterday. Additionally, the House and Senate passed separate Zika funding measures which have divided both Republican-controlled chambers and drawn a veto threat from the President. At the committee and subcommittee level, House and Senate appropriators also advanced assorted legislation funding NASA, the National Science Foundation, and the Departments of Transportation, Agriculture, and Commerce.

FY 2017 Military-Construction Veterans Affairs Appropriations
House Status (H.R. 4974, Through House 5/19) | Senate Status (S. 2806, Through Senate 5/19)
Funding Table: Dept. of Veterans Affairs

Yesterday, the House chamber passed its Military Construction-Veterans Affairs (MilCon) spending bill on 295-129 vote. VA’s medical and prosthetic research accounts would receive $663 million or a 5.2 percent increase over FY 2017, the same level as the President’s budget request. VA funds research on a variety of health issues relevant to veterans' well-being, including in mental health, post-traumatic stress disorder, brain and spinal injury, and other areas. Meanwhile, the Senate proposed an even larger 7.0 percent increase for VA medical and prosthetic research in its respective bill, which also passed the Senate chamber yesterday on an 89-8 vote. The veterans bill was packaged with the Transportation bill in a single vote; the package also included a Zika funding compromise, discussed below. Support for VA medical research remains strong on both sides of the aisle; VA’s total R&D budget has stayed above $1 billion for the past seven years.

FY 2017 Transportation and Housing and Urban Development (THUD) Appropriations
House Status (Through Subcommittee 5/18) | Senate Status (S. 2844, Through Senate 5/19)

As mentioned above, the Senate packaged its Transportation bill with the Military Construction bill and passed them together on an 89-8 vote yesterday. As reported in a previous update, the Senate would cut Dept. of Transportation R&D considerably below FY 2016 levels. Earlier this week, the Administration released a statement expressing disappointment that the Senate bill does not support the President's vision for a 21st Century Clean Transportation Plan to fund environmentally friendly public transportation projects.

On Wednesday morning the House Appropriations Subcommittee for Transportation and Housing and Urban Development (THUD) quickly approved its annual appropriations bill, which provides R&D funding for the Department of Transportation (R&D), on a voice vote. For surface transportation, the bill adheres to the levels agreed upon in last year’s Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act or FAST Act, and sticks to the President’s budget request on Federal Aviation Administration funding, which included $1.0 billion for the NextGen initiative. The Federal Railroad Administration’s R&D program would also receive a 10.2 percent boost to $43.1 million, though less than requested. The THUD bill will move to full House Appropriations Committee markup on Tuesday, May 24.

FY 2017 Defense Appropriations
House Status (H.R. 5293): Through Committee 5/17 | Senate Status: Not yet introduced
Funding Tables: DOD R&D | R&D by Military Dept. | Basic Research | Science & Tech

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On Tuesday, the full House Appropriations Committee approved its FY 2017 Defense appropriations bill by a voice vote. According to current AAAS estimates, the bill provides $73.0 billion for total Department of Defense (DOD) R&D, a 1.1 percent increase above FY 2016 levels but 0.9 percent below the request. Notably, the bill mostly locks in the steep cuts to DOD basic research proposed by the Administration for FY 2017. The bill would grant an extra $10 million above the request to university initiatives funded by the Army and Air Force, and an additional $12 million for programs supporting minority-serving institutions; basic research programs would otherwise be cut across military departments and offices in accord with the request (see Basic Research chart above). However, every military department would also see increases above the request for applied research and technology across several areas including, for instance, materials science, electronic warfare, aerospace research, and maritime research and technology. As a result, overall science and technology funding (excluding medical research) would be nearly flat under the House bill, compared to a more than $500 million reduction in the President’s request (see Science & Tech chart above). The House bill also includes substantial increases for cybersecurity R&D.

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The committee matched the Administration’s requested $3.0 billion for DARPA programs, but then required an unspecified reduction of $50 million to the DARPA budget. Thus, DARPA would only receive a 1.9 percent increase above FY 2016 levels, about half as large an increase as requested. Appropriators also provided much less for Congressionally-directed medical research this year, at $644.1 million. This would result in a surprisingly large 30.8 percent reduction for Defense Health Program Research, Development, Test, and Evaluation (RDT&E) funding overall; this program does tend to be popular with legislators, however, and may receive additional increases during floor amendments as it has in years past. The committee did provide the full requested amount for DOD’s manufacturing technology program, which supports the Administration’s National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI) initiative and will allow the establishment of two new public-private manufacturing innovation institutes in FY 2017, bringing the total to eight under DOD.

As reported last week, the bill uses war funding, also known as Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funding, to pay for base-budget activities at DOD, as a means to get around the current spending caps. House appropriators have granted the $59 billion in OCO funding agreed upon in last year’s budget deal, but about $16 billion would be redirected to non-OCO uses, including $163 million for RDT&E. War funding would run out in April of next year under the proposal, only midway through the fiscal year, requiring the next President and Congress to deal with the shortfall. During Tuesday’s markup, Democrats criticized the step but made no formal attempt to reverse it. The OCO tactic also shows up in the House Armed Services Committee’s National Defense Authorization Act, though the President has threatened a veto of that bill. In addition, the Armed Services Committee’s Senate counterparts have taken a different direction on the OCO question, sticking to the original budget deal and setting up a conflict with the House.

The Defense bill’s next stop is the House floor.

FY 2017 Agriculture Appropriations
House Status (H.R. 5054, Through Committee 4/19) |Senate Status (S. 2956, Through Committee 5/19)
Funding table: USDA

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On Thursday morning the Senate Appropriations Committee unanimously approved its FY 2017 Agriculture bill, following subcommittee approval Tuesday morning. According to current AAAS estimates, the Senate bill would provide $2.3 billion for USDA R&D, 1.1 percent below the request. The overall discretionary budget for the intramural Agricultural Research Service (ARS) would decline by 8.4 percent below FY 2016 levels, though this is mostly due to reduced facilities funding, which received a big boost in FY 2016. The ARS research account would actually increase by 2.9 percent under the Senate bill in FY 2017, with appropriators shifting some funding over from the facilities account. The Senate research account figure also exceeds the President’s budget request, which had sought funding increases for antimicrobial resistance, climate resilience, and water use research within a relatively constrained overall budget.

Senate appropriators, like their House counterparts, also fell short of the request for the Economic Research Service (ERS), the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), and the extramural National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). Also like their House counterparts, Senate appropriators did match the $375 million request for the competitive Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), lining the growing program up for a likely 7.1 percent increase when all is said and done. Elsewhere at NIFA, the formula fund programs for colleges and universities would be once again flat-funded.

Both the House and Senate agriculture bills now await floor action.

Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) Appropriations
House Status (Through Subcommittee 5/18) | Senate Status (S. 2837, Through Committee 4/21)

On Wednesday, the House Appropriations Subcommittee approved its FY 2017 Commerce, Justice, Science bill, which provides funding for NASA, NSF, NIST, and NOAA. The bill would grant NASA a full $1.2 billion more than the President’s request and $202 million more than the Senate Committee, bringing the space agency’s total discretionary budget to $19.5 billion or 1.2 percent above FY 2016 levels. NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD) also received a sizeable increase above both the Senate and Administration’s request, but would still hover around last year’s level. House appropriators also provided boosts for the Aeronautics and Space Technology directorates, whereas the Administration and Senate proposed cuts and flat or nearly-flat spending. The House subcommittee, like the Senate, would prioritize funding for the Space Launch System and Orion Crew Vehicle, granting substantial increases above the request.

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The NSF discretionary budget would fall $57 million or 0.8 percent below FY 2016 levels to a total $7.4 billion in FY 2017 under the House CJS bill. NSF’s Research and Related Activities account would see a $46 million or 0.8 percent increase above last fiscal year, the same amount as proposed by the Administration. However, the House subcommittee made deep cuts to the agency’s construction and facilities account, which would take a large $113 million or 57 percent decrease below FY 2016.

Within the Commerce Department, NIST was targeted for considerable spending reductions; the total NIST discretionary budget would drop 10.3 percent below FY 2016 levels in the House bill. Funding for the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI) was granted a mere $5 million for FY 2017, which is $20 million below last fiscal year and $42 million below the request. NIST’s construction account was also cut by more than half by House appropriators. At NOAA, the Operations, Research, and Facilities account would drop slightly below FY 2016 levels.

Additional details for these agencies will be provided in next week’s update. The House CJS bill is scheduled for committee markup next Tuesday.

Zika Funding

Yesterday, the Senate passed a bipartisan $1.1 billion measure to combat the Zika virus after the chamber rejected two competing proposals. The measure, attached as an amendment to the aforementioned MilCon and Transportation spending package, was negotiated by Sens. Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Patty Murray (D-WA) and would provide emergency funding without any offsets through September 2017. One of the two failed proposals included the full $1.9 billion requested by the Administration without any offsetting cuts, which was recommended by the two senators from Florida. A second measure from John Cornyn (R-TX) would have provided $1.1 billion but with offsets to the President’s health care law.  

Meanwhile, the House passed its own Zika funding bill (H.R. 5243), sponsored by House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY), which provides a total of $622.1 million including $352.1 million in leftover, unobligated funds from the Ebola outbreak. The legislation, passed on a partisan vote of 241-184, is paid for by additional offsets and covers the remaining five-month period of the current 2016 fiscal year. The House bill was met with a veto threat by the Administration, which has requested $1.9 billion for Zika response and prevention efforts.    

Quote of the Week

"In the next Administration, in the next Congress, we must have a comprehensive budget agreement or we're going to go on this way year after year just patching it up...I'm not about to say this is the way a great country should be doing its investments." – Rep. David Price (D-NC), during the Transportation bill markup, on the recurring fights over budget caps and sequestration-level spending.

Cover image credit: April Eilers