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Policy

Budget Conflict Ramps Up

Congress: Republicans seek tighter federal budgets that could curb research spending

by Andrea Widener
March 20, 2015 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 93, Issue 12

Bad-News Budget
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Congressional Republicans last week proposed budget plans that are far below President Obama’s request for fiscsal 2016 and beyond. NOTE: Data are for nondefense discretionary spending. SOURCE: Matthew Hourihan/AAAS
A graph showing the projected budget under Obama’s plan versus the Republican plan.
Congressional Republicans last week proposed budget plans that are far below President Obama’s request for fiscsal 2016 and beyond. NOTE: Data are for nondefense discretionary spending. SOURCE: Matthew Hourihan/AAAS

Congress’s consideration of the 2016 budget began with a bang this week when Republicans in the Senate and House of Representatives proposed 10-year plans that push broad spending cuts across the federal government. The moves are an attempt to eliminate the federal budget deficit.

The proposed budgets would slash broadly at discretionary spending—which includes almost all federal science funding—as well as suggest changes to big-ticket mandatory spending items such as Medicare.

But the biggest cuts were pushed off until 2017 and beyond, and the Senate and House Republicans’ proposals don’t agree. That leaves the state of federal science funding still unsettled. “It just shows that we have not really achieved a change in the conversation yet,” says Ellie Dehoney, vice president at the advocacy group Research!America.

The proposed cuts in both congressional chambers go beyond sequestration caps, which are budget caps signed into law in 2011 that reduced federal funding. However, for the past two years Congress has passed spending above the sequestration caps, and President Barack Obama’s 2016 budget request seeks spending far above them.

The Republicans’ budgets start at the sequestration level in fiscal 2016, which will begin on Oct. 1, 2015. “These are resolutions that stand pat on the sequester, but that doesn’t mean the door is closed for a later deal that increases discretionary spending,” says Matthew Hourihan, director of the R&D Budget & Policy Program at the American Association for the Advancement of Science. If these resolutions are a lower boundary and the President’s request is the upper boundary, he says, “there is some room for compromise still.”

Science advocates have argued that sequester-level science spending is not enough to keep the U.S. competitive internationally. Medical research has received much attention lately and may be more protected from cuts this year than other areas of science, Dehoney says.

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