Fiscal Year 2018 Budget and Appropriations Making Progress in Congress

Is Congress going along with proposed science budget cuts?

The House Appropriations Committee has acted on all 12 federal appropriations bills, working at a fairly impressive pace in a Congress with few legislative accomplishments so far this year. A “minibus”—a package of four of the less controversial funding bills—was recently approved by the House. H.R. 3219 includes the Defense, Energy-Water, Legislative Branch, and Military Construction-Veterans Affairs bills.

While the news is not all good, Congressional appropriators have largely rejected the big science budget cuts proposed by President Trump.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is funded via the Commerce-Justice-State appropriations bills.  The House bill would provide NSF with $7.3 billion in FY 2018, or 1.8 percent below the FY 2017 enacted level. This cut is still 10.3 percent above the President’s request. The bill does not include language singling out social and behavioral science for cuts, as in recent years. However, the report accompanying the bill states that “The Committee believes that strategic investments in the physical science areas are vitally important for the United States to remain the global leader in innovation, productivity, economic growth, and good-paying jobs for the future.” The physical sciences alone are highlighted. Still, the language does not direct NSF to prioritize funding to the physical sciences at the expense of other sciences.

In the Senate bill, NSF’s overall budget of $7.472 billion would shrink by 2.1%, or $162 million, $27 million less than the House provided. 

House and Senate appropriators continue to prioritize funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH). In the House Labor-HHS bill, NIH would receive an increase of $1.1 billion.  The Trump budget had called for a reduction in the $34 billion NIH budget of some 21 percent.

Meanwhile, the FY 2018 budget, which normally is approved before work begins on appropriations bills, is progressing along a more independent path. On July 20, the House Budget Committee approved its FY 2018 budget resolution. The budget is a spending guideline for FY 2018 and proposes annual funding targets through 2027. The House Budget Committee recommends cutting nondefense spending by $5 billion below the spending caps that are currently set in law, while increasing defense spending by $73 billion. Under the House plan, total discretionary spending (that which is allocated via appropriations bills) which contains virtually all federal science programs, sinks 11 percent below current levels by 2027 adjusting for inflation (see this useful chart produced by the American Association for the Advancement of Science), while nondefense spending would fall to 30 percent below current levels: clearly a terrible outcome for science programs if enacted.

The FY 2018 budget resolution may not reach the House floor for a vote, since the appropriations bills are already being written to conform to the current budget caps (set in the Budget Control Act of 2011). Readers may recall that even though the congressional budget is only a guideline, Congress may pass laws that affect the budget, and the Budget Control Act of 2011 set in law spending caps that the Congress must adhere to.  The caps are a ceiling – so Congress could choose to spend less than the caps (as the House budget resolution calls for) but may not spend more without legislation amending the BCA.

APA is a member of several of the coalitions that signed this letter in support of increasing the budget caps set by the Budget Control Act, as occurred in FY15 and FY16.