Update: The Senate, as was widely expected, passed the FY 2018 omnibus too, by a margin of 65-32, last night. It will now be sent to the President, whose signature will make the bill law, assuming he doesn't veto it and trigger a government shutdown.
Amid the miasma of miserable anti-science news effusing from the Trump administration – from climate denial to the censoring of politically inconvenient scientific research – it’s utterly exhilarating to get some good news. In an act of stunning defiance against the White House’s draconian plans to cut science funding, Congress has moved to approve a bill that would boost funding across the board, with no major cuts in sight.
The package forms part of a $1.3-trillion spending deal agreed upon and released this week between Congressional Republicans and Democrats. As this article was being composed, the fiscal year 2018 omnibus, discussions on which began late last year, was officially approved by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives on March 22 by a margin of 256-167, per Reuters.
Now, it’ll make its way to the Senate, whose members have until a Friday deadline to pass the bill with little to no changes or risk a government shutdown.
The Department of Defense, National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Energy, NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the United States Geological Survey (USGS) – and more – have all seen their scientific research funding rise.
As highlighted by Nature, the NIH – America’s flagship biomedical and public health research agency – will get a historic funding high of $37 billion. Funding levels haven’t just risen, mind you: Science Magazine point out that they’ve considerably exceeded increases given in the FY 2017 budget.
Curiously, the budget sometimes refers to the fears that the world’s emerging second superpower is outspending the US on research funding. “This strong investment in basic research reflects the Congress' growing concern that China and other competitors are outpacing the United States in terms of research spending,” the budget documentation notes.
The only major agency to not receive a funding boost was the beleaguered Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Set for major cuts, its funding will remain steady at 2017 levels. “The bill does not support reductions proposed in the budget request,” the document emphasizes.
It’s also worth pointing out that, per The Hill, Republicans have agreed to include a provision in the funding package that will emphasize that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is not disallowed from researching gun violence. Under the controversial 1996 Dickey Amendment, such academic research was essentially banned, but it has now been partially reversed.
Rush Holt, chief executive officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), was practically jubilant in a statement emailed to reporters.
“The scientific community is over the moon with the bipartisan omnibus bill in Congress that significantly increases funding for research and development. We applaud congressional leaders – on both sides of the aisle – for recognizing that funding science and technology continues to be a sound investment that benefits our nation and leads to economic growth.”
Matt Hourihan, a fiscal budget expert at AAAS, remarked via Twitter that “assuming they pass this thing (please Congress pass this thing), this White House is 0-for-2 on annual science budgets,” referring to Trump’s similar defeat at the hands of lawmakers late last year.
As Hourihan notes in a follow-up article, "the FY 2018 omnibus appears to be the most generous regular appropriations bill in 17 years for research," all the more remarkable when you consider the current political climate.
This means the Trump administration – one that spent 2017 making unprecedented attacks on federal science – has just suffered an embarrassing defeat. Somewhat thrillingly, all being well, the final bill will be delivered to the Oval Office, where the president will have to sign it himself.
The White House has recently set out its grim ambitions for the 2019 fiscal year budget, which takes aim at geosciences, climate change, and, rather bizarrely, astrophysics.
That’ll also be voted on later this year, but if this latest vote is anything to go by, it’ll be rejected too.