The battleground. Science funding loses in an early round, but future budget negotiations may pay off.

Science Loses in Early Budget Battle

Science advocates have lost an early round in the annual U.S. budget battle, but they say their campaign to boost government research spending is far from over. Congress today put the final touches on a blueprint for a $1.97 trillion 2002 budget that includes a record boost for biomedical research but little new money for the physical sciences. Science supporters hope to do better in both areas when Congress makes agency-by-agency spending decisions later in the year, based on the fact that appropriators routinely ignore the nonbinding budget resolution.

The budget resolution essentially follows the path laid down by President George W. Bush in April (ScienceNOW, 9 April). It called for a hefty tax cut and an increase in nonbiomedical research spending of about 2%, to $21.6 billion in the fiscal year that begins 1 October. Biomedical research fared better in both Bush's plan and the resolution: They would grow the budget of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the nation's major biomedical research funder, by 13.8%, to $23.1 billion.

Those increases are lower than figures included in initial House and Senate versions of the resolution, however. The Senate version, for instance, called for a 15% increase for NIH to keep the agency on track to double its budget to $27 billion in 2003. The Senate bill also would have added $1.2 billion for nonbiomedical research, embracing a bid by Senators Kit Bond (R-MO) and Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) to boost science spending at NASA and the Department of Energy and double the National Science Foundation's $4.4 billion budget over 5 years. In crafting the final resolution, however, lawmakers jettisoned the extra science funds to make room for the tax cut and military spending increases, including new defense R&D spending that the White House has yet to detail.

Advocates of greater science spending haven't given up the fight. The resolution "should not be a significant impediment" to boosting science budgets later this year, says a senior aide to Representative Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY), chairman of the House Science Committee. Adds another House aide: "The resolution doesn't help, but it ain't the end of the world."

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