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Looming Federal Budget Battles

Congress: House proposes a short-term budget extension with divisive caveats

by Andrea Widener
September 13, 2013 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 91, Issue 37

Credit: Shutterstock
U.S. Capitol building in Washington D.C.
Credit: Shutterstock

With the start of the 2014 federal fiscal year just two weeks away, government funded researchers are bracing for yet another year of shifting budgets and financial uncertainties. In what has become standard practice over the past decades, Congress has run out of time to pass a complete budget through the normal process.

Republicans in the House of Representatives have proposed a bill that would avoid a government shutdown on Oct. 1, when the fiscal year starts, and keep the doors open until Dec. 15. But provisions linking the bill to defunding of President Barack Obama’s health care law and its failure to remove across-the-board cuts brought on by budget sequestration make the House proposal unlikely to pass in the Senate. That means the uncertainty is likely to continue for weeks, months, or even longer.

Jumping from budget crisis to budget crisis is bad for science, University of California Senior Vice President for External Relations Daniel M. Dooley wrote in a letter to lawmakers earlier this month. He encouraged them to return to the normal budgeting process. “Short-term budgeting, combined with the threat of future sequestration cuts, creates uncertainty, lost opportunities, and in some cases higher costs that can have damaging, long-term effects on California and the nation,” he wrote.

The Republican bill (H.J. Res. 59) would continue federal funding at the rate of $986 billion per year, slightly below the present funding level of $988 billion. That current number includes cuts mandated by sequestration, which slashed programs throughout government, including most federal science agencies. Federal employees have faced furloughs and program cuts, while academics have seen their grants slashed. In the past, Senate leaders have said they will not pass funding bills that include the sequestration cuts.

At C&EN press time, House leaders were trying to gather support for the continuing resolution, which had been scheduled for a vote by the full House this week. The Senate has not yet indicated its plans to deal with the budget deadline.



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