U.S. Senate Panel Gives NSF a Small Boost

A U.S. Senate spending panel has met the president’s 2015 request for the National Science Foundation (NSF)—and that’s depressing news for the agency.

This morning, the panel approved a $51.2 billion spending bill covering NSF, NASA, and the Department of Commerce. But unlike its counterpart in the House of Representatives, the panel stuck to the 1.1% increase for NSF, to $7.255 billion, that the White House had proposed. Last week, the House approved a 3.2% increase, adding $153 million to the president’s request for a total of $7.408 billion.

The bill, drafted by appropriations chair Senator Barbara Mikulski (D–MD), matches the House in its support for NASA’s science programs. At $5.2 billion, the proposed budget exceeds the president’s request by $435 million and is $250 million above current spending levels.

The Senate Appropriations Committee will take up the bill on Thursday, and Mikulski hopes to win passage by the full Senate in July. Then the two numbers will have to be reconciled in a conference, which is not likely to take place until after the November elections. But this time, unlike in previous years, the House figure will represent the high-water mark for NSF. It may also be a one-time event: The chair of the House spending panel, Representative Frank Wolf (R–VA), is retiring at the end of the year. And his departure means that NSF will be losing one of its most stalwart supporters in the House from either side of the aisle.