Blame Where Blame Is Due

A lot of people have commented on this New York Times article on science budgets, mostly echoing the author’s lament about the negative effects of operating at 2006 funding levels. I really don’t have much to add to that, but it’s worth reminding people where the blame for this belongs:

Last year, Congress passed just 2 of 11 spending bills — for the military and domestic security — and froze all other federal spending at 2006 levels. Factoring in inflation, the budgets translate into reductions of about 3 percent to 4 percent for most fields of science and engineering.

Congressional Democrats said last month that they would not try to finish multiple spending bills left hanging by the departed Republican majority and would instead keep most government agencies operating under their current budgets until next fall. Except for the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security, the government is being financed under a stopgap resolution. It expires Feb. 15, and Democrats said they planned to extend a similar resolution through Sept. 30.

(emphasis added). Let’s be perfectly clear on this: there is a science funding crunch because the outgoing Republican majority made a deliberate decision not to pass budget bills, basically in a fit of pique. This is the legislative equivalent of a foot-stamping tantrum, a deeply childish attempt to make life difficult for the Democrats. If anyone in the Republican party retains the ability to feel shame, this would be the appropriate moment.

Comments

  1. #1 Matt
    January 9, 2007

    As a hopeful physics graduate student, I was a bit frustrated with the report of the science funding crunch. My university recently had someone from APS stop by to give a talk about the American Competative Initiative (from the White House). Funding and research abuses sort of nullify any grandstanding Republicans would want to make via this initiative, and this I’d say was the last straw.

    My dad called me to point out the article and sagely remarked that “It wasn’t much of a surprise that fewer students are getting into physical science, when they treat funding like this.” All I thought that it was more indicative of the fact that this is what happens when you elect people whose explicit governing philosophy is “government doesn’t work.”

  2. #2 kevin v
    January 9, 2007

    Chad — the NYT should have known better than that, or you’re reading the wrong message into what they wrote. The House, which is always dominated by the majority party, passed almost all of their approps bills (see this page: http://thomas.loc.gov/home/approp/app07.html), whereas the Senate only passed three. The difference is that the Senate gives the minority party strong powers to stall legislation, and it is my strong impression that the Dems, seeing that they’d get a victory in both chambers, decided to put the stall on all approps bills until the new Congress started.

  3. #3 Chad Orzel
    January 9, 2007

    The House, which is always dominated by the majority party, passed almost all of their approps bills (see this page: http://thomas.loc.gov/home/approp/app07.html), whereas the Senate only passed three. The difference is that the Senate gives the minority party strong powers to stall legislation, and it is my strong impression that the Dems, seeing that they’d get a victory in both chambers, decided to put the stall on all approps bills until the new Congress started.

    I’m mostly basing my description on my recollection of news stories from early December, which I recall quoting Republicans as saying basically what I said: that they decided to punt to stick it to the Democrats in January.

    Pinning it on the Democrats only works as an explanation for the very last bits of the process, as Democratic control of anything didn’t look all that certain until well into the fall, at which point the Congress had been not passing appropriations bills for quite some time.

    And, of course, there’s always the fact that they probably could’ve gotten bills passed had they been willing to make concessions to satisfy the Democrats in the Senate. You know, the sort of thing that mature and responsible legislators are supposed to do. They chose not to do that, and as far as I’m concerned, they bear full responsibility for the resulting mess.

  4. #4 Matt
    January 9, 2007

    Kevin is correct on the house/senate divide on passing appropriations bills, but I highly doubt the supposedly “strong-willed” Democratic caucus was what helped up Senate passage of the remaining legistlation. The Republican Senate was able to shove massive legistlation and spending bills through in less then a week. The fact is they had greater priorities then doing their jobs this year.

    If my memory serves me correctly, the Senate was far more interested in attempting to ammend the Constitution to ban flag burning and outlaw gay marriage. This was in June and July. Throw in the Summer break and the other miscellaneous time off the Republican Congress took (having worked slightly 100+ days in ’06) and you don’t have much time before the October recess to get anything done. And all of October was spent campaigning.

    So Chad is right to lay this budgetary fiasco at the feet of Congressional Republicans, who were more busy pandering to their base religious constituency then writing/passing needed legistlation. All to save their behinds on election day. BLARGH!

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