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By Mitch Ambrose
President Trump signed legislation on August 2 that suspends the federal debt ceiling and raises caps on discretionary spending for the next two fiscal years. Called the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2019, the law will enable Congress to continue its recent run of funding increases for science agencies. In setting spending levels for the final two years covered by the Budget Control Act of 2011, the law also marks a conclusion to the use of statutory spending caps and automatic budget sequestration as tools for reining in spending.
Most of the increase provided by the agreement will come in fiscal year 2020, with the cap on non-defense spending rising 4% to 622 billion and the cap on defense spending rising 3% to 667 billion. For the following fiscal year, the cap for each category will increase about 1%. Most science agencies are funded out of the non-defense portion of the budget.
These increases are not as large as those provided through the last budget agreement, reached in 2017, which raised the cap on non-defense spending by 12% for fiscal year 2018 and 3% the following year. Whereas that agreement resulted in a windfall for several science agencies, the new one enables Congress to sustain the current funding levels with room for some additional increases.
However, Congress and the president still must agree on how to apportion the budget among the 12 annual appropriations bills that fund the federal government.
The House approved most of its bills this summer, employing the assumption that non-defense spending would increase 6%. Meanwhile, the Senate opted to wait until a budget agreement was reached before advancing its own proposals, which it is now plans to release soon after Congress returns from recess in September.
Although House appropriators will likely have to rein in at least some of their proposed spending increases for science programs, their finished bills represent a starting point for negotiations with the Senate, conveying their prioritization of areas such as climate change research.
Given that the start of fiscal year 2020 on October 1 is fast approaching, Congress may well use one or more stopgap funding measures to buy time for crafting final spending legislation. However, the budget agreement decreases the possibility of another government shutdown.
In a set of principles released upon announcing the budget deal, congressional leaders and the Trump administration conveyed a desire for a smooth appropriations process, committing to “minimize procedural delays” and refrain from adding controversial policy demands to their spending bills.
The author is Acting Director of FYI.
FYI has been a trusted source of science policy and funding news since 1989, and is read by members of Congress and their staff, federal agency heads, journalists, and U.S. scientific leaders. Sign up for free FYI emails at aip.org/fyi.
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