Congress proposes increases
for science in fiscal 2019

Published September 01 2018

I wrote in June about reasons for optimism and pessimism regarding congressional support for the nation’s science funding agencies. As the appropriations process slowly has progressed this summer, proposed budget increases for domestic priorities such as science give cause for cautious optimism.

With budget increases in the last three years, the U.S. Congress has an established track record of increasing investments in the federal agencies that fund scientific research, and this year’s proposals indicate that Congress has every intention of continuing this trend. The U.S. House and Senate have proposed to increase the National Institutes of Health budget by at least $1.25 billion, while giving the National Science Foundation at least a $301 million increase for fiscal 2019. Other science offices and agencies, such as the Department of Energy Office of Science and NASA, also have fared well. Science advocates, however, must continue to keep pressure on Congress until the new budgets are passed and signed into law by President Donald Trump.

This year, the U.S. Senate is taking a creative approach, hoping to ensure passage of controversial appropriations bills by partnering them with bills that are more widely supported. To pass the perennially controversial Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education bill, which includes funding for family planning services and stem cell research, the Senate is bundling it with the defense bill, which enjoys solid bipartisan support. Because the LHHS bill includes the NIH, funding for researchers across the country previously has been stymied by political disputes, and the resulting delays have wreaked havoc on the NIH’s ability to make timely funding decisions.

Bundling appropriations bills is not a new concept. However, after 19 years of passing continuing resolutions that temporarily fund the government based on the previous year’s budgets, this strategy may finally lead to a full-year spending bill. While the Senate is thinking creatively about ways to pass appropriations bills, the president has threatened a government shutdown unless his policy priorities are addressed.

In late July, Trump threatened to shut down the federal government unless Congress meets his demands for funding for a new southern border wall and stricter immigration policies. It remains to be seen if the president will hold to this threat or back down to pressure from congressional leaders to keep the government funded and operating. In spite of Trump’s veto threat, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has stated that the funding bills will be passed before the Sept. 30 funding deadline and the congressional midterm elections.

We encourage you to visit our blog for updates on the process and for ways you can be involved.

Benjamin Corb Benjamin Corb is director of public affairs at ASBMB. Follow him on Twitter.