Update: 2/9/18 President Trump signed the budget agreement into law early Friday morning.
Original Post: Big news out of Washington today is that there is a new budget deal that could provide much needed relief to Federal science research agencies. Similar to the deals from 2013 and 2015, this agreement would suspend the budgetary caps imposed in the 2011 Budget Control Act for two years. It would provide $165 billion in additional spending for defense discretionary accounts over two years, a key demand for Congressional Republicans and the Administration, and $131 billion in additional spending for domestic accounts over two years, a demand of Congressional Democrats. While not the 1-to-1, defense to domestic spending, increase that Democrats were pushing for it is a middle ground both sides arrived at to get the deal done. Additionally, the agreement suspends the debt limit until March 2019. There are a number of other smaller additions to the deal and one big omission (no final decision on DACA, or Dreamers, was included).
Why is this a big deal? We’ve been hearing from key appropriators for some time that if they can get relief from the budget caps (particularly domestic spending, as that includes NSF), increases for research would be a priority. So this is potentially great news for our community and the research community as a whole. Additionally, this can finally put Fiscal Year 2018 funding to bed, a full six months after the fiscal year started on Oct 1st. It also makes Fiscal Year 2019 easier to pass, as there is agreement on funding levels for next year.
The Senate is expected to take votes on the bill Thursday afternoon; it is likely to pass easily (as the deal is predominately Senate negotiated legislation). Then it gets a bit more uncertain, as the House must take it up. This sets up an interesting conflict in both political parties. On the Republican side, they are split between defense hawks, who want large increases to defense spending, and fiscal hawks, who want large reductions to Federal spending; the fiscal hawks are likely to not vote for this agreement. In past cases, Republican leadership was able to count on Democratic votes to make up the votes they lose in their own party. However, the Democratic Caucus is now split because of the lack of DACA protections in the bill; for example, Minority Leader Pelosi has publicly said she will not vote for it. However, the Democrats have also said they are not whipping votes (ie: enforcing a party-line vote) on the agreement; so there is some uncertainty about how the House Democrats are going to vote. The general expectation is the agreement will pass the House but it’s expected to be a relatively close vote.
We’ll keep our eyes and ears on this as it unfolds and will update as events progress, so please check back.