In DepthScience Policy

Congress faces a lengthy science to-do list

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Science  02 Sep 2016:
Vol. 353, Issue 6303, pp. 978-979
DOI: 10.1126/science.353.6303.978

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Summary

Congress returns in early September from a 7-week summer break with a lengthy list of unfinished business, some of great interest to the U.S. research community—and just a few weeks to tackle it. Lawmakers aren't likely to pare that list by much before they leave next month to campaign in advance of the 8 November elections. They might give some issues a second look after the election, however, when they return for a lame duck session. The one big responsibility Congress can't shirk is passing some kind of spending bill to keep the government running for the 2017 fiscal year, which begins on 1 October. Lawmakers are expected to put off a final decision by temporarily extending 2016 spending levels into 2017 with a so-called continuing resolution (CR). A CR means the budgets of federal research agencies will be frozen: Administrators won't be able to start new programs or benefit from the spending hikes envisioned in some preliminary appropriations bills awaiting final action. They include a hefty proposed increase for the National Institutes of Health, another big boost for a NASA mission to a jovian moon, a new Coast Guard icebreaker that would enhance polar research, and a third midsized research vessel for the U.S. academic fleet. A CR also would leave hanging major disagreements between the House of Representatives and the Senate on whether to continue U.S. participation in ITER, the costly international fusion project, and how much earth science NASA should carry out.

  • * With reporting by Jeffrey Mervis, Jocelyn Kaiser, Adrian Cho, Kelly Servick, Carolyn Gramling, and David Malakoff.