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September 23, 2008

House Dems Want to Punt Approps Until March 2009

The House is apparently moving to pass a continuing resolution for the FY 09 appropriations until March 6, 2009 -- essentially deferring any decision on final appropriations levels to the new Congress and Administration. This is not unexpected -- we've been talking about this since February -- but it's still bad news. Under this plan, most federal agencies (including federal science agencies) would see their funding restricted to the FY 08 level until at least March -- halfway through the 09 fiscal year. This is especially unwelcome news for science agencies, which saw FY 08 funding levels that were essentially cuts vs. FY 07 levels (which weren't spectacular either). 

There are lots of factors involved here, so the final endgame still isn't known. We've assumed for most of this year that we were going to get a CR because the dynamics between the Bush administration and the Democratically-controlled Congress are just as bad as they were last year when we saw the FY08 appropriations meltdown. But add to the mix now the desire of Congress not to come back after the November election, indecision in the Senate over their way forward (Democrats there still want to pass a large emergency supplemental that's now looking pretty unlikely), and the impact of a $700 billion bailout for the financial services sector, and we really don't have a clue how this is going to shake out. 

CRA has joined a couple of efforts in recent days urging Members of Congress to consider funding science agencies at COMPETES levels in the FY09 CR, but the science advocacy community in general isn't holding its breath about this. Frankly, I only really see one scenario in which science funding might recover quickly: if Obama wins in November and the Democrats hold or add to their majority in Congress.* If McCain wins or the House GOP makes gains, the dynamic for science funding doesn't really change. In fact, things may get worse for science funding in the short term as McCain has indicated that, if elected, he would call for a one year "freeze" on federal discretionary spending -- holding all government programs to their FY 08 funded levels -- to give time to his Administration to "evaluate each and every program, looking at which ones are worthwhile and which are a waste of taxpayer dollars" (according to Ike Brannon, an economic and senior policy advisor to McCain). Such a freeze would not be welcome news for science agencies looking for relief after suffering real-dollar cuts in FY 08 for the second straight year.

*There's one more caveat to the scenario and that's the unknown impact of the $700 billion bailout, both on the federal budget itself and, just as importantly, on the mindset of policymakers. It's such a big number -- more than 2/3rds of the Federal discretionary spending budget -- that it's hard to rationalize as part of the budget process. But, even if it's a one-time hit against the total deficit (even if the total hit isn't yet known) and not a big factor in the mechanics of the appropriations process, it sure seems likely to amplify deficit politics. How much that mindset change might impact how future appropriations work out is anyone's guess.

In any case, we'll pass along more details as we learn them. For subscribers, has the details of the CR.

Posted by PeterHarsha at September 23, 2008 11:32 AM
Posted to FY09 Appropriations