President’s Budget Picks a Few Science Favorites

But Congress Will Have the Last Word

There has been quite a bit of budget-related news this month.  Last week Congress passed a two-year agreement to raise the budget caps put in place by the Budget Control Act of 2011, allowing for $312 billion in additional spending on defense and nondefense accounts in Fiscal Years 2018 and 2019.  This is a major victory for research advocates who weighed in on many occasions about inadequate budgets.  Many were frustrated with years of sub-inflationary budget increases and long months during which the agencies operated on temporary funding authority, as they continue to do for FY 18 (through March 23). The budget agreement is not ideal, but it allows room for the House and Senate Appropriations Committees to advance funding bills that promise to be friendlier to research budgets than the Continuing Resolutions have been (friendlier, too, than the Administration has been).  For example, the budget deal calls for an additional $2 billion for the National Institutes of Health over the next two years, though the FY 18 omnibus funding bill has not yet appeared for final action. See this update for more details on the budget agreement.

Last spring, science advocates watched in dismay as the President proposed an FY 18 budget with large cuts to science, education and other domestic agencies: 10 percent to the Department of Education, 31 percent to the Environmental Protection Agency, 11 percent to the National Science Foundation, 18 percent to the National Institutes of Health. Advocates weren’t sure how far Congress would bend to adopt the presidential proposals.  The answer was: not far. Congress rejected many of the proposed cuts in preparing the FY 18 appropriations bills.

So it is with a bit less dread that we absorb this week’s Administration budget proposal for FY 19.  Like last year’s document, it proposes deep cuts in domestic programs.  Because the Administration budget was largely prepared before Congress passed the two-year agreement, the Administration offered its draconian budget this week with a last-minute addendum that provides guidance on how it hopes Congress will allocate the extra money. Without the addendum, the Administration would have proposed a $9 billion cut for NIH, or 28 percent, and the National Science Foundation (NSF) would have been docked $2.2 billion or 29.5 percent.  With the addendum, NIH and NSF would maintain budgets at the FY 17 level. This is considered positive, compared to cuts proposed for other agencies, until you remember that the newly-adopted budget agreement proposes an extra $2 billion for NIH over the 2018 – 2019 fiscal years, and the Administration’s proposals do not acknowledge that. 

There are some winners:  veteran’s health care is one. The Administration’s budget request of $727 million for the Department of Veterans Affairs' Medical and Prosthetics Research account in FY 19 represents an 8.7% increase from the administration’s assumed flat-funding level of $669 million in FY18.

Other agencies were less fortunate.  The budget authority for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) would be set at $5.661 billion, cut by $878 million compared to the level in the FY 18 CR, and the Prevention and Public Health (PPH) Fund which was created through the Affordable Care Act and has been used to supplement CDC’s budget, would be eliminated. Some funds are added back to the CDC via the addendum, but without the PPH Fund, the shortfall would be severe. 

The Administration proposes to privatize the International Space Station, now funded via the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) beginning in 2025. The budget requests $19.892 billion for NASA, a modest $61 million below NASA’s 2017 funding level. But the cuts largely fall on NASA’s science programs and, as in FY 18, the Administration calls for the elimination of NASA’s education programs.

The Environmental Protection Agency budget would fall from $497 million in FY 17 to $269 million in FY 19, a 54 percent cut. No money was added back in the addendum to block the EPA cut. But Congress will have the opportunity through committee hearings to weigh in on the Administration proposals and accept or reject them when the committees begin writing the FY 19 appropriations bills late this spring.

We will provide more details about the Administration’s budget in a subsequent blog. Given the two sets of numbers, neither of which compares to the newly-adopted budget agreement, analysis of the budget is more complicated than usual, and we want to provide accurate information.

But here’s the bottom line:  take the Administration proposals seriously. We will provide opportunities to speak out to your members of Congress via Action Alerts, but you can also make your own opportunities. Congress still makes the decisions on funding, and Congress cares what its constituents think. If you’re looking for good news in all the writing about the budget, remember that!