Outlook On FY2003 Budget Bills
By October 2002, thirteen FY 2003 appropriations bills should have been enacted. This deadline is rarely met, and a number of factors make it less probable that Congress will complete it work on time this year. There are several major forces affecting this year's budget cycle. An obvious uncertainty is the pace and scope of future military operations.
The state of the economy is also a key factor since it affects the amount of federal tax revenue. Finally, this is an election year, with the seats for all representatives and one-third of all senators at stake. Every action that Congress and the Administration takes will be scrutinized for its impact on the control of the Senate and House. While there will be much talk about reducing the FY 2003 projected budget deficit, it seems almost certain that Congress will pass, and the President will sign, appropriations bills pushing the government back into deficit spending. The budget caps that provided some restraint in previous years have expired.
The betting is that the Republican-controlled House and the Democratic- controlled Senate will not settle on a final budget resolution this spring. Without this resolution's taxing and spending parameters, the appropriators will have few constraints on the bills they write.
Making this situation even more uncertain are politically infeasible recommendations in the budget request, such as a 7% reduction in Army Corps of Engineers spending, a 30% reduction in highway money, a 9% cut in Navy shipbuilding funding, and changes in veterans' health benefits reimbursement. Relations between Congress and the Administration have been strained by earmarking, with each side angrily claiming the high ground. Finally, while Members of Congress generally concur with the President on war-related matters, members of both parties disagree with the Administration's approach to other defense policies and expenses.
Looking ahead, it is clear that Congress will continue to be supportive of S&T. Larger questions, such as those described above, will impact FY 2003 research funding outcomes. Congress is almost certain to provide NSF with more than the requested 5.0% increase, although the VA budget ramifications are going to be troublesome.
The outcome for NASA is difficult to predict as much will depend on what will be done about space station overruns. Requested increases for DOE physics-related programs range from 1.7% to 6.5%. The DOE appropriations bill also contains funding for popular Army Corps programs so the outcome cannot be predicted. Congress was very supportive of defense S&T last year, boosting it by 11.0%, so it is highly unlikely that Members will agree to the 2.0% cut sought by the Administration.
The 5.1% requested cut in USGS is going to be a hard sell on Capitol Hill, and there is no way that the budget for the Advanced Technology Program will be cut by 41.5%, as the Administration has requested.
These are highly uncertain times, and these outcomes could change. The coming months will be contentious. Budgetary outcomes will depend on the involvement of constituents in the process of determining the federal government's priorities in the next fiscal year, which begins about six months from today.
— Richard M. Jones, American Institute of Physics
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