For all its many failings, Congress is doing one thing right: It’s repeatedly ignoring President Trump’s requests to drastically cut federal science funding to historic lows, at least for the most part.
Although it’ll take until later this year for the spending bill to be passed or rejected by the House, it has given its approval – as per a vote – for the 2018 federal budget, which takes effect on October 1 of this year. Instead of slashing science funding, it once again boosts it.
The vote, 211-to-198, rejects Trump’s proposal that basic scientific research across the government should be cut by 16.7 percent, reducing the total to $28.9 billion. In fact, lawmakers voted for an increase in research by 2.6 percent, raising it to $35.6 billion.
Much of this increase will go towards health and “defense” funding, and climate change research funding remains, give or take, the same as this year’s.
It’s far from ideal, and the vote brings with it several grim decisions. For example, the government is not allowed to send money to the Green Climate Fund at any point, the Paris agreement-linked initiative that asks wealthier nations to help financially support poorer countries transition from fossil fuels to clean energy, and to build climate change defenses.
At the same time, the National Science Foundation (NSF), the largest supplier of federal science grants to researchers, is seeing its budget cut by around 2 percent. This is the sort of behavior that will see China usurp America as the world leader in science by 2019.
Either way, the Senate is working on their own spending bill, and the House and Senate – thanks to an extension of the 2017 budget – have until December 8 to agree on the final, “combined” bill. If not, the government will shut down. Still, if the 2017 federal science budget is anything to go by, and this important vote, science funding will be largely protected from Trump’s draconian cuts.
This battle has been playing out ever since Trump sat in the Oval Office. The first round was fired back in March, when the White House produced its budget blueprint for the upcoming 2017 fiscal year.
At the expense of a boost in military spending, it proposed to cut huge amounts from the Environmental Protection Agency (30 percent), the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration (around 30 percent), Health and Human Services (23 percent), Education (14 percent), the United States Geological Survey (10 percent), and even NASA (by 1 percent).
The programs that were most threatened were those that dealt with the Earth Sciences, especially if they had any links to climate change research.
Budgets are initially voted on by the House, which is currently controlled by the Republicans. Whether it’s because they’re climate change deniers, lobbied by industry, or because they want to “shrink” the government in the way traditional conservatives pine for, you’d perhaps expect them to fall in line with the President on this budget – but as the recent Obamacare “repeal and replace” effort shows, this isn’t always the case.
Enough Republicans back then recognized that cutting science funding across the board is a terrible idea, one that would actively endanger the wellbeing of the American public in many cases.
Working with Democrats, the bipartisan effort to shield federal science from Trump’s cuts proved to be successful. Only modest cuts were taken from certain scientific agencies (like the EPA), whereas plenty of others, including NASA, NOAA, and the NIH received not-insignificant funding boosts.
The threat of the 2018 White House budget proposal – which was fairly unchanged from the 2017 one – still loomed large, but it looks like once again, the House has defied the President, if only just.