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Rocky Road for Federal Budget

Politics: Partisan maneuvering in Congress threatens final 2012 spending bill

by Susan R. Morrissey
December 19, 2011 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 89, Issue 51

Credit: James Berglie/ZUMA Press/Newscom
Boehner accused the White House and Democrats of holding government funding hostage.
Washington, D.C, U.S. - House Speaker JOHN BOEHNER
Credit: James Berglie/ZUMA Press/Newscom
Boehner accused the White House and Democrats of holding government funding hostage.

After Congress appeared to be on track to finalize the outstanding nine fiscal 2012 appropriations bills in one large omnibus measure, politics halted progress last week. Introduction of the bipartisan, bicameral omnibus bill was delayed as Democrats attempted to use its passage as leverage for a stalled, unrelated payroll tax cut measure.

If Congress fails to pass the omnibus or some kind of spending bill by Dec. 16, a partial government shutdown will occur. Agencies not covered by the smaller, previously passed 2012 spending measure that combined Agriculture, Commerce-Justice-Science, and Transportation-HUD appropriations bills would be closed.

“We’ve got an agreement between appropriators in the House and Senate” on a bipartisan bill to fund the government that’s being held up by President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), said House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio). “We believe the responsible thing to do is to move this” bill.

To that end, House Republicans released the negotiated omnibus bill on Dec. 15. The $915 billion measure includes final 2012 funding levels as well as some policy provisions, although it lacks the most controversial directives limiting environmental protection.

Within this package is funding for R&D at the Departments of Defense and Energy, NIH, and EPA. At DOD, $72.4 billion, which is 3.3% below 2011 funding, will go to support research, development, testing, and evaluation. At DOE, a program for R&D on renewable sources of energy will hold steady at $1.8 billion, while funding for nuclear and fossil-fuel R&D will increase by various amounts. Funding for DOE scientific research will grow by $46 million to $4.9 billion.

The NIH budget will grow by 1.0% to $30.7 billion under the omnibus measure with the assumption that the agency will support the same number of research grants as it did in 2011. EPA will get $8.4 billion, a 2.9% cut from its 2011 budget. The omnibus bill calls for cuts in clean air and climate research programs, EPA’s regulatory development office, and air regulatory programs.

The White House said it has “significant concerns” about the omnibus bill, and advocated passage of a short-term spending measure to give Congress more time.

As C&EN went to press, affected agencies were preparing for a shutdown as Congress continued its political maneuvering.



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