The New Congress and Fiscal Issues
The November 2012 election resulted in the status quo — the re-election of President Obama, a Republican House of Representatives, and Democratic Senate — and many of the fiscal issues facing policymakers look similar to last year as well. Although Congress and the Administration reached agreement on some of the tax issues in the flurry of “fiscal cliff” activity at the end of 2012, they were unable to resolve the looming cuts from sequestration, the debt limit, and the appropriations process for Fiscal Year 2013. Key areas that will be discussed in the coming months include:
- Instead of mandatory cuts of 8.2 percent across non-discretionary spending from sequestration beginning 1 January, the tax agreement pushed the start date for cuts to 1 March, and made some additional cuts to pay for the delay.
- Appropriations for fiscal year 2013, which began 1 October 2012, have not been completed. The government is currently operating at FY 2012 levels under a continuing resolution, which runs until 27 March, at which time agreement will need to be reached on spending for the remained of the fiscal year.
- Somewhere between mid-February and March 1, the government is expected to exhaust all measures to stay below the debt limit.Absent from this list of fiscal priorities is the Administration’s Fiscal Year 2014 budget request, which is generally released in early February. Many have speculated that given the uncertainty surrounding sequestration and FY 13 funding levels that the request will occur much later than usual, likely no earlier than mid-March.
The White House released a memo to agency leaders on 14 January outlining practices for dealing with this budget uncertainty. Although much remains to be decided, it is clear that funding for all programs, including R&D, will be under scrutiny and facing potential cuts.
Although the fiscal challenges remain the same, geoscience policy will be shaped by many new leaders. As is common in second-term administrations, many key Cabinet and agency leaders are leaving, including several leaders of scientific agencies. Dr. Jane Lubchenco will be leaving NOAA to return to academia, and Dr. Marcia McNutt will be leaving the U.S. Geological Survey in mid-February. Lisa Jackson has announced her resignation from the Environmental Protection Agency and Ken Salazar has announced he will be leaving the Department of the Interior. No nominations for these positions have been made yet.
In Congress, several key committees have new leadership. With the retirement of Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) has taken the helm of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) remains Ranking Member.
The House Science, Space and Technology Committee will be chaired by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), who previously chaired the Judiciary Committee, where he led patent reform legislation. In a statement to Science Insider, he said he will use his new role to “promote legislation that encourages scientific discoveries, space exploration, and the application of new technologies to expand our economy and create jobs for American workers. “ Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) will remain Ranking Member. The committee divided its energy and environment subcommittee into two panels. Energy will be chaired by Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) and Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) will chair the environment panel.
Many of the committees will release their agendas for the year in the coming weeks.
GSA’s Director for Geoscience Policy