Four of the thirteen appropriations bills that control all discretionary spending directly impinge on the geosciences: Interior and Related Agencies, Energy and Water, VA/HUD/Independent Agencies, and Commerce/State/Judiciary/Related Agencies. Of these four, only Energy and Water had been sent to and signed by the President in November before the first of two government shutdowns. As a result, the bulk of the Department of Energy (DOE) remained open during the mid-November and December-January shutdowns. The three remaining bills passed Congress and were all vetoed by President Clinton in mid-December. The House of Representatives did try a veto over-ride attempt on these bills rather than negotiate a compromise, but overriding a presidential veto requires a two-thirds supermajority in both House (290 votes) and Senate (67 votes), neither of which were forthcoming. In the absense of these full-year appropriations, the affected agencies are being funded by the latest in a string of one-month continuing resolutions. The current one, slated to expire in mid-April sets funding at whichever was lowest of those passed by the House, Senate, and conference. For those functions zeroed out, funding is provided at 75% of FY 1995 levels. The stalled bills are being folded into a single streamlined bill with most of the controversial positions removed and several billions of dollars of funding restored. This bill would serve as a full-year continuing resolution allowing the matters to remain unresolved until after the November election. With the fiscal year 1997 budget process now underway (see pre-print of May Political Scene column in this directory), pressure is mounting for Congress to get the old year (now half over) taken care of if they are to have any hope of adjourning by October 1 in order to get home and campaign for re-election.
The Interior and Related Agencies bill (H.R. 1977 and House Report 104-402) includes the U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Bureau of Mines, DOE Fossil Energy program, Minerals Management Service, and other geoscience-related agencies. Twice during the fall, House/Senate conferences were held and in both cases, the House rejected the ensuing conference report, the second time by a vote of 230 to 199 on November 15th. Provisions concerning mining patents, the Tongass national forest,and implementation of the California Desert Protection Act of 1994 continue to be sticking points even within the Republican caucus itself. A third conference was held in mid-December, and the third time was the charm, passing the House of Representatives, 244-181, and the Senate, 58-40. A presidential veto was issued on December 18th. The bill provides $730 million for the USGS, of which $16 million comes from the former Bureau of Mines and $138 million from the former National Biological Service. The Bureau of Mines was given $64 million for shutdown. This bill also provided $1.18 billion for DOE's fossil energy, solar and renewables programs. The current continuing resolution specifies that the USBM shutdown and transfer of NBS functions to USGS are to continue as planned.
The VA/HUD/Independent Agencies bill (H.R. 2099) was reported out of its House/Senate conference on November 16th. The House voted to send the bill back to conference by a vote of 216-208 on November 29th, principally due to displeasure with cuts to veterans benefits. The same report without additional veterans funds was put to a second vote on December 7th and passed 227-190 after some arm-twisting by the Republican leadership. The Senate passed the report, 54-44. This bill was also vetoed on December 18th. The agencies of interest for the geoscience community in this bill are primarily EPA, NSF, and NASA.
The bill had been bogged down in conference because of large differences in funding for EPA between the House and Senate versions. The report would fund EPA at about $5.71 billion -- an increase of about $50 million over the Senate-passed bill and about $820 million above the House-passed bill. The report amount represents a 21 percent decrease from FY 1995 funding and is 22 percent below the Administration request. Superfund is set for $1.16 billion, up more than $116 million from the House and Senate bills but still $260 million less than last year and $340 million less than requested. The Council on Environmental Quality would receive a $1 million appropriation, rather than its elimination as suggested by the House-passed bill.
In addition, the House version included a large number of non-spending provisions (known as riders) that limit EPA's authority over environmental issues. The conference report removes all but one of the riders, which removes EPA's power to veto wetlands permits issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Despite the changes, the President has vowed to veto this bill if it does not find more money for EPA and HUD. The NSF portion of the bill has been relatively non-controversial with funding set at levels slightly above FY1995 in most cases. NASA's Mission to Planet Earth budget sustained large cuts as did many NASA programs squeezed by the decision to fully fund the space station. Both NASA and NSF are particularly vulnerable if further cuts are needed to offset increases in the VA, EPA, or HUD portions of the bill.
The Commerce/State/Judiciary/Related Agencies bill (H.R. 2076) passed the Senate on December 7th by the narrow margin of 50-48. It was vetoed on December 19th by President Clinton, in part because of the large cuts to his technology initiatives but principally because funding for his crime package was changed into block grants. The House attempted to override the veto on January 3rd but failed 240-159. The bill includes the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). NOAA is funded at $1.89 billion, approximately $20 million over FY1995, but within that amount oceanic and atmospheric research received a $14.3 million cut from FY1995.
(Contributed by David Applegate and John Dragonetti, AGI Government Affairs)
(Sources: Environmental and Energy Study Institute Weekly Bulletin, the American Institute of Physics FYI Bulletin and the Washington Post)