Senate Panel Proposes Smaller Cuts to Science Agencies Than House

Senate Democrats unveiled a plan today to trim federal spending for the rest of the fiscal year that takes smaller bites out of the Department of Energy's (DOE's) Office of Science, the National Science Foundation (NSF), and NASA than what the House of Representatives has proposed. But it suggests that cuts in research are all but inevitable this year.

The Senate bill, which could be brought to the floor as early as Tuesday, proposes a reduction over current spending of almost $11 billion, compared with the $61 billion reduction in the House version passed last month. To make it look larger—and thus more appealing to fiscal hawks—Senate leaders described it as a $51 billion reduction from the president's 2011 request, submitted 13 months ago and never enacted by Congress.

Details of the Senate proposal are still somewhat sketchy, however.

The Senate Appropriations committee says that NSF would receive $6.87 billion under its plan rather than the $6.57 billion in the House version. That's a reduction of roughly $50 million below the current level of $6.92 billion. NASA would receive $18.5 billion rather than its current level of $18.7 billion. The House version would lower it to $18.4 billion.

Under the Senate version, DOE's Office of Science and the new Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) would be trimmed by a total of $523 million. By comparison, the Senate panel says the House version would nearly double the size of that cut, slashing $1.04 billion. But it's hard to know for sure because of the complications in calculating the budget of each program. The Office of Science now receives $4.9 billion and would get $4 billion in the House version. ARPA-E, which doesn't have a regular appropriation, sought $300 million in 2011.

The statement released today does not mention the National Institutes of Health, which under the House bill would be held to its 2010 levels. The president had requested a $1 billion increase in 2011.

The government is currently being funded under a continuing resolution (CR) that expires on 18 March. If the Senate and House don't reach an agreement by then, another CR will be needed to avoid a shutdown.

See our 2012 Budget coverage.