In February, Congress enacted the final Consolidated Appropriations Act for fiscal year 2019, which prevented an additional government shutdown and fully funded the National Science Foundation. Congress also enacted the Natural Resources Management Act. The Senate also approved the Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East Act, which includes an amendment that calls for President Trump to refrain from drawing down troops in Syria and Afghanistan. The Senate also confirmed the nomination of William Barr to be the U.S. attorney general and Andrew Wheeler to be administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. The House approved a resolution directing the removal of U.S. armed forces from hostilities in Yemen, and a resolution that terminates the national emergency related to the U.S.-Mexico border, declared by the president on February 15. The House also approved the Bipartisan Background Check Act and the Veterans Access to Child Care Act. The president delivered the annual State of the Union speech.
Congress Finally Finishes FY19 Appropriations Bills, Preventing Another Government Shutdown
On February 14, the House and Senate cleared the final conference report to the FY19 Consolidated Appropriations Act. This legislation was a product of bipartisan negotiation, and fully funded several of the remaining federal departments and agencies that had been subject to the previous partial government shutdown. While the president did not secure his request of $5.6 billion for a new wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, he reluctantly signed the agreement into law and a declared a “national emergency” in an effort to redirect previously-appropriated dollars to the wall.
The final agreement provides $8.1 billion for the National Science Foundation (NSF). This represents a $301 million increase over the amount appropriated in fiscal year 2018. Of this amount, $6.5 billion — $222 million above current spending levels — is appropriated for NSF “research & related activities,” the funding line that includes the Social, Behavioral and Economic (SBE) Sciences Research Directorate.
The final bill also upholds important language approved last July by the Senate Appropriations Committee to its committee report accompanying the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) Appropriations bill. This language states:
“Therefore, NSF shall maintain its core research at levels not less than those provided in fiscal year 2017. The Committee believes that the additional funds provided for fiscal year 2019 are more than adequate to continue basic research and allow NSF to position the United States to continue as a global science and engineering leader using the 10 Big Ideas framework.”
This language protects the SBE directorate from any additional cuts and ensures that funding cannot by diverted from any of the research directorates to fund the NSF’s 10 Big Ideas.
Census Fully Funded, but Will Need Large Increase in FY20
The final fiscal year 2019 agreement also provided $3.8 billion for the Bureau of the Census, to provide sufficient funding to ramp up for the 2020 decennial census. However, this amount will need to be dramatically increased in fiscal year 2020. According to the Census Project, at least $8 billion will be needed in FY20 funding to adequately provide for a decennial headcount. The accuracy of the 2020 Census is threatened by several years of funding shortfalls, delayed information technology and cybersecurity upgrades, and reduced field testing.
Unfortunately, additional funding requirements for the decennial census will place even more fiscal pressure on all of the departments and agencies included in the fiscal year 2020 CJS Appropriations bill, including the NSF. Congress will therefore first need to reach an agreement on the budget spending caps that were put in place by the Budget Control Act of 2011. This will be necessary to provide an additional amount of spending to the allocation for the CJS bill.
President Declares “National Emergency.” Can He Really Do This? A Social Science Perspective
Citing the National Emergencies Act (NEA), the president on February 12 declared a “national emergency” related to illegal immigration at the U.S.-Mexico border, triggering what his administration believes is his legal authority to transfer previously appropriated funding to build his proposed border wall. On February 26, the House voted largely along party lines to approve a resolution blocking this action, and the Senate is expected to vote on the resolution in the near future. But even if the resolution passes the Senate, it will likely be vetoed by the president, and Congress currently does not have the two-thirds of its members required to vote to override this veto.
For the past several weeks, constitutional scholars have been debating the extent to which the president’s declaration is legal. On February 18, 16 states filed suit challenging the constitutionality of the president’s declaration.
According to the Brennan Center for Justice, presidents have declared national emergencies 60 times since the law was enacted in 1976. Passed in the aftermath of Watergate, the law gave Congress the right to challenge an emergency declaration, most of which have been uncontroversial.
Ironically, when the NEA was enacted, Congress was trying to restrain presidential powers. At that time in 1976, there were nearly 500 emergency-related statutes on the books, and the president could declare a national emergency with little ability for Congress to constrain the president. The National Emergencies Act required the president to specify which emergency authorities he intended to invoke once the emergency was declared. It required those emergencies to be renewed on a regular basis. And it created a fast-track mechanism for Congress to terminate a presidential emergency.
“The catch was that for them to actually rein in presidential power, Congress would have to take action,” said Andrew Rudalevige, a professor of government at Bowdoin College. “They’d have to pay attention. They’d have to be willing to go against the will of a president, even of their own party. They haven’t done that.”
However, according to Rudalegive, “nothing in the statute says there actually has to be a national emergency — only that the president declare that there is one…. usually courts are loathe to overrule presidential determinations of this sort by substituting their own judgment of what constitutes an ‘emergency.’ ”
In the News…
“Will the president’s emergency declaration stand? Here are three (and a half) reasons it may not” | Washington Post (Monkey Cage), February 18, 2019
“U.S. science adviser sees smaller federal role” | Science (Jeff Mervis), February 22, 2019
“Update: U.S. science agencies see gains in final 2019 spending bills” | Science (Jeff Mervis), February 15, 2019
CRISPR-101: A high-level overview of CRISPR technology and a discussion of ethical and patenting issues intended for new members of Congress and staff
March 13, 10:30 to 11:30 a.m., Rayburn House Office Building – Gold Room (2168)
RSVP: Sean Winkler at Swinkler@biophysics.org or (240) 290-5606
New Arrivals: Who Are The New Immigrants and How Are They Doing?
March 28, noon-1 p.m., The Gold Room, 2168 Rayburn House Office Building
Fixing a Broken Market: Encouraging Antibiotic Research and Development to Protect the Public’s Health
March 7, noon-1 p.m., Capitol Visitors Center, Room HVC 201AB
More info and RSVP, CLICK HERE
Late Night Humor
Seth Meyers: “White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders is being criticized for posting a tweet implying that Mexican drug lord El Chapo could have been stopped if there was a border wall. What? His whole thing is tunnels. You can’t stop a tunnel with a wall. You could build a wall around Manhattan 50 feet high, and people will still drive in from Jersey, and get in everyone’s way.”
Trevor Noah: “Okay, whose idea was it to send Mike Pence to solve the crisis in Venezuela? Like, is the plan just to bore Maduro out of power? Is that what it is? Maduro will be, ‘Okay, okay, enough about your mother, I’ll leave already!'”
Seth Meyers: “Bernie Sanders would be the oldest nominee put forth by a major political party. Poor Bernie, can you imagine what the presidency would do to him? It aged Obama so much, and he was in his prime. Bernie’s going to come out looking like Gollum.”