Energy Policy Bill and FY 2004 Appropriations Bills
Congress returns to work next week it will immediately confront
legislation left over from last year. Seven major appropriations
bills remain stuck in the Senate that would provide FY 2004
funding for science-related programs such as the National
Science Foundation, NASA, National Institute of Biomedical
Imaging and Bioengineering, National Institute of Standards
and Technology, and the Department of Education's Math-Science
Partnership Program. The energy policy bill, which contains
strong authorization numbers for the DOE Office of Science,
is bogged down. Despite one-party control of the House, Senate,
and White House, finding the votes to pass these bills has
been difficult, and the prognosis is very unclear.
small section of the massive energy policy bill, H.R. 6, establishes
multi year authorization levels for DOE's Office of Science.
The science authorization levels are largely noncontroversial,
as they are not binding on either the president or the appropriators.
larger energy policy bill is anything but noncontroversial.
The product of more than two and one-half years of work since
President Bush first announced an energy policy, the bill
has had up-and-down prospects because of highly controversial
provisions dealing with drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife
Refuge; oil, ethanol, gas, coal, and nuclear energy subsidies;
and perhaps now most significantly, a liability waiver for
the producers of a fuel additive. This additive, MTBE, while
making gasoline combustion cleaner, also pollutes groundwater
if it escapes from underground gasoline storage tanks. A filibuster
by MTBE opponents has prevented the Senate from voting on
the bill. President Bush has asked House Majority Leader Tom
DeLay (R-TX) to drop the provision; DeLay was not persuaded.
This legislation has already passed the House.
is anticipated that Senate Majority Leader Frist (R-TN) will
make moves to bring the bill back to the Senate floor in about
a month, with another attempt at passage before mid-March.
After that date, schedule pressures and the November elections
will diminish the chances of the bill's passage. No one knows
how all of this will turn out.
bills are always referred to "must-pass" bills since
they provide the money needed to operate a department or agency.
Deciding how much to provide for a program, or whether to
fund it at all, has always made on-time passage of the thirteen
appropriations bills a difficult feat.
was predicted that single-party control of both ends of Pennsylvania
Avenue would ensure passage of the FY 2004 bills around the
start of the new fiscal year on October 1. That has not happened,
with seven of the thirteen bills stuck in the Senate. In an
effort to move these bills off Capitol Hill more quickly,
they were all combined into an $820 billion "omnibus"
bill that the House passed on December 8. A Senate move to
pass this bill under "unanimous consent" failed
due to a lack of unanimity. Congress then decided to continue
funding for the affected agencies at last year's level until
the end of this month.
"plan A" will be finding 60 votes to end debate
on the omnibus bill when the Senate reconvenes on January
20. Failing that, "plan B" will be to move toward
a bill that will continue last year's level of spending until
the start of FY 2005 on October 1. In other words, flat funding
over two years for all of the departments and agencies now
caught up in the budget standoff. A very large share of the
anticipated budget increases are for programs funded by the
Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education bill. Whether
the anger felt by Democratic senators at being locked out
of the negotiations process and their opposition to some of
the tacked-on provisions (such as those dealing with gun ownership
documentation, media ownership and food product labeling)
in the omnibus outweighs their desire to see the increases
in social service program spending is yet to be determined.
At present, House Republican leaders are refusing to open
the omnibus bill to any changes.
plan B is adopted, the budgetary losses to the affected S&T
programs would vary. The National Science Foundation's 5.0%
agreed-upon increase would disappear, as would the 3.2% increase
for the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering.
The 48.5% increase for the Department of Education's Math
and Science Partnership would be eliminated. NASA's programs
would fare both positively and negatively, as some programs
that would be slated for reductions would be spared, while
other program increases would be lost. An 11.8% reduction
for NIST would apparently be shelved.
Capitol Hill observers are predicting that this is going to
be a very tough year. Cooperation between the two parties
appears to be at an all-time low. Budgetary pressures seem
to be greater than in recent memory. And this fall promises
another bitter election as both parties struggle for the control
of the White House, Senate, and House of Representatives.