Funding issues still not settled but lame ducks trying to step up

APA cheers for “Team Omnibus.”

We normally think of “lame ducks” as powerless, but the current lame duck Congress (out of town this week for the Thanksgiving recess) will have the power to set fiscal year 2015 spending levels, and set the stage for cooperation or confrontation between congressional chambers and parties for the next two years. Of course the 113th Congress had the power to do those things earlier in the year, but blog readers know that Congress usually takes the procrastination option when big issues are at stake.

Staff-level discussions have increased regarding the budget and appropriations. Appropriations committee chairs Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., and Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., said they are continuing to make progress on resolving the differences in the funding levels for the twelve bills that will be included in an omnibus package. A House Appropriations Committee spokesperson said that the current plan is to release the bill by Dec. 8 in order for it to be approved by Dec. 11.

The science community would more likely benefit from an omnibus than from a continuing resolution (CR). Earlier this year, Senate Appropriations Committees approved legislation to increase funding for the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation and other science agencies. The Senate’s recommendation of $30.4 billion for NIH would fully restore the funding that was cut in 2013 due to sequestration. NSF’s budget would grow by 7 percent under the House proposal. (The House did not report a bill to fund NIH.) These increases will not happen if Congress is unable to agree on a final FY 2015 budget package in the next few weeks. In that case a CR would likely keep spending levels at FY 14 levels, and leave it to the new 114th Congress to settle the larger questions.