February 26, 2014

March Madness

Posted by Nick Saab

White House

Photo credit: Tom Lohdan

Written By Nick Saab, AGU Public Affairs

The most recent budget showdown has just barely faded over the horizon. The president and Congress can finally talk about something that doesn’t involve the contentious issue of doling out funding for the government to stay open and operating. We can finally get back to focusing on setting policy, like the NASA reauthorization, COMPETES Act, and NEHRP that were shelved last summer.

But Wait! On 4 March, next Tuesday, the President will carry on the American tradition of submitting to Congress his request for a fiscal year 2015 budget. In it, he’ll lay out his funding request for nearly every corner of the federal government. The roll out is a departure from the normal order in a couple ways. First, he’s late – the Budget and Control Act of 1921 dictates that the president release a budget on the first Monday of February. Second, he’s about a month earlier than last year. In theory, the president submits his request, and then the Budget committees go to work drafting top-line spending limits, which then guide the Appropriations committees. In practice this is no longer the case, as attested to by the fact that in January we celebrated the passage of a 10-month budget in light of the budget crises and Continuing Resolutions of 2013, 2012, and 2011.

Another major departure from the norm is that the Budget Committees have already set spending levels for 2015. As we mentioned above, the Budget Committees are supposed to set spending levels after receiving the president’s request. That gives the Chief Executive a bit of negotiating power (bid high, trade horses, and then settle on a price). But back in December, Budget Chairmen Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Patty Murray (D-WA) agreed to a budget deal that set spending limits for two years instead of one.

Barack Obama in the Oval Office with staff, in...

Photo credit: Wikipedia

So what are we expecting to see in the president’s request? Who knows! These things are usually kept pretty close to the chest, and details are rarely leaked. What we do know is that the president will likely request an amount in-line with the Ryan-Murray deal, unlike in previous years where he purposefully went over the current spending limits of the sequester. That’s good news, as it significantly lessens the potential for a major showdown between the Administration and Congress. Other whisperings we are hearing is a “Race to the Top” program that encourages States to cut energy waste and modernize energy transmission.

What would we like to see? Additional investment in the scientific research and development that has helped our country grow so much in the past. Some lawmakers over the past forty years have repeatedly suggested using the “Peace Dividend”, the money that would have otherwise been used for the wars in Vietnam and now Iraq and Afghanistan, to invest in science. That approach has so far failed to materialize . Seeing as how most of the major science programs found little to no relief in the recent omnibus appropriations bill, we hope that the president will request increased funding levels at a time when they’re needed most.

Next Tuesday, we’ll be covering President Obama’s budget rollouts along with the more detailed individual agency releases when they become available. Follow us on Twitter for live updates from the releases, and check back here for a full wrap-up. You can also find more information on the federal budget on our website.

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