The Senate approved a “minibus” appropriations bill that combined the FY19 Defense and Labor-Health and Human Services-Education Appropriations Acts. The Senate also cleared for the president’s signature the FY19 Defense Authorization Act, and the measure was signed into law on August 13. The Senate also confirmed several judicial and executive branch nominations. The House was in recess for the entire month of August.
Senate Holds Rare August Session, Approves Massive Spending Bill
As is customary, the House adjourned in late July for its summer recess, and returned to session after Labor Day in September. Contrary to custom, the Senate stayed in session for several weeks in August, working on a backlog of nominations and spending measures. The Senate on August 23 approved a “minibus” appropriations bill that funds the departments of Defense; Labor; Health and Human Services; and Education. This bill accounts for 60 percent of the federal discretionary budget, weighing in at a price tag of $854 billion. Remarkably, only seven senators voted against the bill, demonstrating a desire on both sides of the aisle to avoid a government shutdown.
When the House and Senate reconvened on September 4, they faced the reality that, despite significant progress on moving appropriations bills, not a single bill has been enacted into law. The Defense-Labor-HHS-Education minibus bill will go straight to a House-Senate conference committee with hopes to produce a final spending package that can be sent to President Trump before September 30. Congressional leaders are also working on conferencing two other minibus appropriations bills.
Despite this progress, the Senate has yet to act on floor consideration of the Commerce-Justice-Science Appropriations Act, which includes fiscal year 2019 funding for the National Science Foundation. If Congress does not enact this legislation or other spending bills by September 30, it must approve a continuing resolution to keep the government funded, or risk a partial shutdown of agencies whose budget have not been enacted into law by that date.
House and Senate Spending Bills Differ on Education Priorities
As members of the House and Senate appropriations committees head into conference to resolve their differences on the Defense-Labor-HHS-Education bill, they must deal with competing priorities on the Education budget. One significant difference is the funding levels included for the Education and Innovation Research (EIR) program, one of the few education initiatives slated for an increase in the President’s budget. The House bill would appropriate $145 million for EIR, a 21 percent increase, while the Senate bill would appropriate $135 million, a 13 percent increase.
Both the House and Senate bills provide level funding ($2.057 billion) for Title II-A Funds for Teacher Professional Development. The House bill provides $1.2 billion ($100 million increase) for the Title IV Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants, which were established under the Every Student Succeeds Act to provide school districts with investments for technology to improve instruction, while the Senate bill provides a slightly higher $1.225 billion ($125 million increase) for the program.
Droegemeier Nomination Clears Senate Commerce Committee
On September 5, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation unanimously approved the nomination of Kelvin Kay Droegemeier to serve as the director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, or OSTP. Droegemeier is an American research meteorologist currently serving as the Oklahoma Secretary of Science and Technology and as vice president for research at the University of Oklahoma. The director position has been vacant since January 2017 after the departure of John Holdren.
The science community has been generally supportive of the nomination of Droegemeier. Holdren praised the nominee, saying “he is a respected senior scientist and he has experience in speaking science to power.”
While Droegemeier’s credentials may be solid, he will have fewer resources to work with, thanks to reorganization of the OSTP by the current administration. Under the Obama administration, the OSTP had 130 employees. Staffing has been reduced to 50 employees under the Trump administration.
In the coming weeks, the full Senate may vote to confirm Droegemeier’s nomination.
In the News…
“Researchers replicate just 13 of 21 social science experiments published in top journals” | Washington Post, August 27
“Can social scientists help tackle misinformation on Facebook?” | Financial Times, August 8
“Five takeaways from the 2018 American Political Science Association annual meeting” | Washington Post, September 4
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Late Night Quotable
“Best Buy just purchased a company that provides emergency response services. So, next time you’re having a heart attack, don’t worry, the Geek Squad will be over tomorrow between 2:00 and 4:00 to save your life.”
Jimmy Fallon, August 16
“Home Depot just had its best quarter in company history. When asked what they’ll do with the money, Home Depot said, ‘Hire a second employee.’ “
Jimmy Fallon, August 15
“An 11-year-old boy in Florida was able to hack into a state elections website and change results in under 10 minutes. So get ready to meet Florida’s next governor, Fortnite McDeadpool.”
Jimmy Fallon, August 13
“New research has found that settlers of North America took more than one route to get to the continent. Unfortunately, the ones who used Apple Maps didn’t make it.”
Seth Meyers, August 9