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May 2021 (Volume 30, Number 5)

FYI: Science Policy News from AIP

Key Science Budget Gavels Change Hands in Congress

By Adria Schwarber

The changeover in Congress following last year’s election has brought new faces to some key roles on the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, which are responsible for drafting the federal discretionary budget. The two committees each divide the work among 12 mirror-image subcommittees, about half of which are together responsible for the lion’s share of science funding.

The most notable change that has occurred is that the Senate panels are now controlled by Democrats for the first time in six years, and the party has taken unified control over the congressional agenda for the first time in a decade.

With the power shift in the Senate, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) has moved from ranking member to chair of the Energy-Water Subcommittee, which handles the Department of Energy’s budget. Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) is the subcommittee’s new top Republican, replacing Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), a leading advocate for DOE’s research programs and national labs who retired in January. DOE does not have a large research footprint in Kennedy’s state, in contrast to those of Alexander and Feinstein.

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Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) has replaced Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) as top Democrat on the Defense Subcommittee, which is responsible for the Defense Department’s expansive research, development, test, and evaluation portfolio. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) returns as the top Republican on both the subcommittee and the full committee, though he has announced he will not seek reelection in 2022.

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) is the new chair of the Interior-Environment Subcommittee, which is responsible for the budgets of the Environmental Protection Agency and US Geological Survey, taking over as top Democrat from retired Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM). Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) returns as the subcommittee’s top Republican.

Aside from the switchover in party control, leadership is unchanged for the Senate subcommittees that have jurisdiction over the budgets of the National Institutes of Health, NASA, National Science Foundation, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Both Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Jerry Moran (R-KS) return to lead the Commerce-Justice-Science Subcommittee, which is responsible for NASA, NSF, NOAA, and NIST. Likewise, Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) are holding their spots atop the subcommittee responsible for NIH, though Blunt has announced he will not seek reelection in 2022.

On the House side, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) is now chair of the Appropriations Committee following the retirement of Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) and is also continuing as chair of the subcommittee for NIH. Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX) remains the top Republican appropriator and all the Republican subcommittee leaders with science portfolios have kept their spots.

With the retirement of Rep. José Serrano (D-NY), Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-PA) is now chair of the Commerce-Justice-Science Subcommittee. Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) has switched to chairing the Defense Subcommittee from chairing the Interior-Environment Subcommittee, which is now led by Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME). Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) remains chair of the Energy-Water Subcommittee.

Notably, for the first time in a decade the Appropriations Committee leaders will be operating free of the constraints set by the Budget Control Act of 2011, which expired last year. However, they still must agree on an overall budget for the year, which is then divided up between the 12 subcommittees, and Republicans will retain influence over these figures unless Senate Democrats modify the filibuster. The topline budget level will bear significantly on the prospects for science agency budget increases, though separate infrastructure legislation could provide additional funding through the same process Democrats used in March to circumvent the filibuster and pass a $1.9 trillion pandemic recovery package.

The author is a Science Policy Analyst for FYI.

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Editor: David Voss
Staff Science Writer: Leah Poffenberger
Contributing Correspondents: Sophia Chen, Alaina G. Levine

May 2021 (Volume 30, Number 5)

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