It’s Thanksgiving Week and Congress is in recess. Perhaps the last you heard about the federal budget for FY 2016 was that there was a bipartisan deal at the end of October. Sounded like a good outcome. That is true, but that deal didn’t actually provide funding for the coming year; it just increased the amount of money that could be spent. Congress has until December 11 to figure out how it is going to divide up those additional dollars and pass a bill to fund the government for the coming year. So why haven’t you heard much?
After the October budget deal, Congress began working behind closed doors on how to appropriate the additional dollars. The appropriations chairmen let their subcommittees know how much money they had to divide up among the programs for which they were responsible. These numbers were not made public. The subcommittees were supposed to send their proposals back to the Congressional leadership by November 20. It is rumored that the conversations have not only focused on dollar amounts for each programs, but also on what policy riders will be included in the final bill. Policy riders are directives that require certain actions or disallow certain actions by federal agencies. The Democrats prefer a spending bill without riders; Republicans are pushing to include riders that reflect their priorities. An example of a potential policy rider that affects scientists would be one that would require the National Science Foundation to certify that all funded grants represent research that is the national interest by making the U.S. more secure or improving the economy. (This rider was in a spending bill approved by the House earlier this year, and could end up part of the ominbus bill currently being worked on.)
The rumors are that Congress will release an omnibus bill funding all federal agencies and programs on December 1, at which time we will be able to see how the agencies we care about have fared. It is expected that the next ten days will be spent working out the riders and final numbers.
What has BPS been up to?
While the Hill has not been forthcoming with information during the past month, the Society has remained active in advocating for science funding in the final bill. When the budget deal was reached, the Society sent a thank you letter to the White House and Congressional Leaders. The Society has also sent communications to the Hill as a member of several coalitions in which it participates. Many of these groups are also working on FY 2017 funding; a letter as sent by a coalition of coalitions, in support of raising science funding 5.2% across the board in 2017.
What can you do?
BPS has also been encouraging members to get involved. A call for members to write to their Senators and Representative to thank them for the budget deal and advocate for science in FY 2016 went out to all U.S. members in early November. Thus far, 54 advocates have sent 166 letters. If you haven’t written yet you can do so here.
Enjoy the quiet of Thanksgiving Week and stay tuned for more budget news in early December!