Searching for Sixty

Sixty votes will be needed in the Senate to work toward the conclusion of the FY 2011 appropriations cycle.

US-Senate-SealSixty votes will be needed in the Senate to work toward the conclusion of the FY 2011 appropriations cycle. Entering what is scheduled to be the final week of this session of Congress, no one knows what form the final appropriations bill will take, how long it will be for, and what the level of funding will be. The outcome will depend on whether 60 senators vote to allow the Senate to proceed on a final appropriations bill.

Last Wednesday, the House of Representatives approved by a vote of 212-206 a bill to continue FY 2010 funding through September 30, 2011. This bill provides $45.9 billion less than President Obama requested for discretionary programs. While the total funding remains the same from FY 2010 – $1,089,652 million – the House Appropriations Committee made funding adjustments between different programs and accounts to, as stated by the committee “deal with current demands and workloads and avoid furloughs.”

There are many pages of funding changes in this resolution. Of note, the appropriators increased NASA science funding from the FY 2010 level of $4,469 million to the requested level of $5,005.6 million There is also language regarding the International Space Station, commercial crew funding, the Orion multipurpose crew vehicle, and a heavy lift launch vehicle system of not less than 130 tons. The language for the Department of Energy includes a provision that $300 million of funding can be transferred to the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy from several DOE accounts, including the Science account. Also in the DOE language is $624 million for the National Nuclear Security Administration if the New START Treaty receives Senate ratification. Finally, House appropriators provided $1,125.1 million for the U.S. Geological Survey, up from the FY 2010 level of $1,111.7 million.

The Senate will be taking up this House-passed continuing resolution this week, as current funding expires on December 18. There are several possible outcomes.

Senate and House leaders have been working on an FY 2011 omnibus spending bill that would combine all twelve appropriations bills. The total price tag for this bill would be less than originally envisioned, but would meet a spending cap originally called for by a Democratic senator and a Republican senator who want to see spending reduced. This legislation has not been released. If backers of this approach can secure sixty or more votes, overall funding would total approximately $1.108 trillion, about $18 billion more than this year’s funding that would be continued by the House-passed continuing resolution.

If this fails, the Senate could continue the current funding level as called for in the House-passed continuing resolution.

If neither of these measures is agreed to, another short term continuing resolution would be passed that would likely extend into February. Some prominent Republicans advocate this approach as it would allow them the opportunity to reduce non-defense discretionary spending to FY 2008 levels, a 22 percent reduction that would total about $100 billion.

Sixty Senate votes will determine the outcome.

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Source: The AIP Bulletin of Science Policy News
Photo: U.S. Senate