Washington and Social Science: SBE Funding Untouched For Now

In June, the Senate Majority leadership unveiled its version of “Trumpcare” – the Better Care Reconciliation Act – but failed to secure enough votes for passage prior to the July 4 recess.  The Senate also approved legislation related to Congressional review of actions related to U.S. sanctions on Iran and Russia. The House approved a repeal of the “Dodd-Frank” financial services reform act, and several bills related to immigration and “sanctuary cities.”

Congress has three months to complete FY18 budget

Thanks to significant delays in completing the fiscal year 2017 budget, a new administration, and lack of consensus on a budget resolution, congressional leaders have a daunting task ahead of them: complete 12 spending, or “appropriations,” bills by the end of the fiscal year, September 30.  Usually by this time of year, Congress has enacted a budget resolution, which sets overall spending ceilings for defense and non-defense discretionary spending, and specific spending amounts are agreed to for each of the 12 appropriations bills. However, none of this has yet happened.

Nevertheless, the House Appropriations Committee is proceeding with their markups of spending bills, and the Senate Appropriations Committee hopes to begin during the week of July 10.

To date, the full House Appropriations Committee has approved the Military Construction, Defense, and Legislative Branch Appropriations bills.  Several other bills have been approved at subcommittee level (see below).

If Congress does not complete these bills by September 30, they must pass a “continuing resolution” to prevent a government shutdown and keep government agencies funded at existing FY17 levels. Tight fiscal pressures and competing budgetary priorities will make it difficult for Congress to fully enact these vital spending measures.

Oh, and Congress will be in session for only seven weeks between now and September 30!


House panel rejects Trump budget cuts for NSF


Despite not having a budget resolution to set parameters for overall funding, the House Appropriations Committee is proceeding with “mark-ups” of individual spending bills for the fiscal year 2018 budget. The approval of the first of these bills has demonstrated that the House has no stomach for approving some of the deep cuts in domestic programs proposed in President Trump’s budget.

Nowhere was this more apparent than funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF), for which the president proposed an 11 percent cut. On June 29, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, or CJS, approved its version of the fiscal year 2018 CJS Appropriations Act. The bill funds NSF at $7.3 billion – $133 million below the fiscal year 2017 enacted level. However, NSF Research and Related Activities are funded at the current level of $6 billion.


Notably, the House CJS Appropriations Act does not include specific line-items for each of the NSF research directorates. If ultimately approved, this would likely mean that the level of spending for the Social, Behavioral and Economic research directorate would remain at its current level of approximately $272 million.

…But Census funding comes up short


The House CJS Appropriations bill also provides $1.507 billion for the U.S. Census Bureau, a minor $10 million increase above the president’s budget. While any increase in funding for a program may seem like a victory during these tight fiscal times, the amount included for the Census falls well short of levels needed to sufficiently ramp up for the 2020 decennial census.

According to the Census Project, “the Census Bureau will need at least $303 million more than the request ($279m + $24m), or at least $1.8 billion, in FY 2018, and possibly more, to maintain the quality of its programs and continue on a path to a fair and accurate 2020 Census.”

ACA Repeal at an impasse in Senate

On June 26, the Senate Majority released its version of legislation to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, with the hopes of quick passage before the 4th of July recess.  Similar to the House-approved American Health Care Act, the Better Care Reconciliation Act makes major changes to the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act, including a repeal of the mandate to purchase health insurance, a roll-back of the Medicaid expansion, significant caps on Medicaid spending, and waivers allowing states to define “essential health benefits” that must be included in insurance plans.  According to the Congressional Budget Office, the Senate’s Better Care act would result in 22 million Americans losing health insurance coverage.

Republican leaders in the Senate had hoped to pass the bill during the week of June 26, with the bill then going to the House for a final vote over the weekend and President Trump signing the bill into law before the 4th of July. However, hours after the bill was released, four conservative senators come out in opposition to the bill as currently drafted.  Two other moderate Republican senators – Dean Heller of Nevada and Susan Collins of Maine – also objected to proceeding with the bill as written.

On June 29, Senate leadership pulled the plug on a vote…at least until after the 4th of July recess.  The bill is not yet dead, and modifications may be made to accommodate concerns on both the left and right. A vote is more likely to occur in mid-July.  Proponents of the Senate’s Better Care act cannot afford to lose more than two Republican senators to assure a majority vote in the Senate.

National Academies Report on SBE Research at NSF

On June 9, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) released a report entitled The Value of Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences to National Priorities: A Report for the National Science Foundation.

This report was requested several months ago by Representative John Culberson, R-Texas, the chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, and Science.  The report’s primary conclusion, according to an NASEM press release, is that the “social, behavioral, and economic (SBE) sciences make significant contributions to the National Science Foundation’s mission to advance health, prosperity and welfare, national defense, and progress in science.” The report also recommends that “NSF should undertake a systematic and transparent strategic planning process that defines SBE research priorities, the required resources, and how success in addressing SBE priorities will be evaluated over time.”

Over the past few years, SBE funded-research has been scrutinized by several members of Congress. The House Science Committee has given higher priority to the biological, physical and chemical sciences than the social and behavioral sciences, and through legislation has attempted to shift investments from the SBE Directorate to four other research directorates that fund research in these disciplines. The NASEM report provides important, objective justification for continuing our nation’s investment in social and behavioral sciences, and includes several specific examples of how this research has improved our society.

In the News…

Slate magazine: Spend Your Money on Whatever You Want

Science: Trump cuts to NSF mostly rejected by House panel, but it nixes new ships/a>

Science: NSF offers arm’s-length defense of Trump’s 2018 request

Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences: What We Don’t Know Can Hurt Us: Toxic Chemicals, Science, and Policy

Washington Times, op-ed from Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas: The High Overhead of Scientific Research

Upcoming Hearings and Briefings


“Data Science for the Public Good Symposium”, July 27, 1-5 PM, Virginia Tech Research Center, 900 North Glebe Road, Arlington, VA 22203. Register at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/data-science-for-the-public-good-symposium-2017-tickets-35542215724

“Science and Human Rights Coalition Meeting: The Right to Science” sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), July 27-28, 8:30 A.M. to 5 P.M. AAAS Headquarters, 1200 New York Ave NW, Washington, DC 20005. Register at https://www.aaas.org/event/science-and-human-rights-coalition-meeting-right-science

Late Night Quotable

Jimmy Fallon: “Today is the 10th anniversary of the release of the first iPhone. It’s also the 10th anniversary of someone asking their bartender, “Um, can you charge this for me?”

Stephen Colbert: “The temperature is so high in Phoenix, Arizona, that flights are being canceled because it’s too hot for planes. Because at higher temperatures, the air has a lower density, which reduces how much lift is generated. Scientists first realized this was a problem when they saw birds taking the bus north for summer.”

Conan O’Brien: “Canadian officials announced they are planning to build up their military. Then they said, ‘That is, you know, if it’s OK with everybody else.’ ”

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Mark Vieth

Mark Vieth is a senior vice president of the Washington government relations firm CRD Associates. Since he joined CRD in 2002, he has specialized in bringing diverse associations, foundations, institutions of higher education and other stakeholders together to advocate for common objectives. Before that, Vieth was a staffer in the U.S. House of Representatives for 14 years, including serving as chief of staff for then-Congressman Robert A. Borski of Pennsylvania.

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