House Republicans Set Deep Targets for Budget Cuts, Alarming Universities

February 03, 2011

Republicans leading the U.S. House of Representatives proposed on Thursday a 9-percent single-year cut in nondefense discretionary federal spending, making clear the huge challenge confronting President Obama and his pledge to largely spare scientific research from the overall need for deep budget reductions.

The House Appropriations Committee set the target in issuing a budget outline by which Congress hopes to use to finish work on spending bills for the 2011 fiscal year, which began last October.

The plan, which includes breakdowns by broad budget category, calls for a 16-percent cut from 2010 levels in spending for the budgetary division that includes the National Science Foundation and NASA, a 10-percent reduction for the Energy Department, and a 4-percent cut in the unit that includes the National Institutes of Health and the Education Department.

The proposed spending levels fall well below the amounts recommended last year by Mr. Obama, who has promised to protect research spending both this year and in the budget for the 2012 fiscal year, which he is due to propose later this month.

House Republicans, who gained a majority in the chamber in last November's elections, stopped short Thursday of specifying exact amounts for agencies such as the NIH and NSF. But university leaders immediately began viewing the outline with alarm, especially given that the 2011 fiscal year is already more than one-third complete. That means the full-year percentage cutbacks would be even larger when applied to the unspent portion of each agency's annual budget.

"These allocations pose a serious threat to science and higher education," said Barry Toiv, spokesman for the Association of American Universities, the main lobbying group for research institutions. "We're going to be working to convince the House to sustain funding in these areas, but if they don't, we'll be encouraging the Senate to take a different approach."

Earlier Thursday, Mr. Obama visited Pennsylvania State University at University Park, where he made clear his belief that scientific research should remain a priority even as the federal government tries to scale back its spending.

"Government has a responsibility to live within its means," Mr. Obama told a gathering of about 3,000 people on the campus. "But we also have a responsibility to invest in those areas that are going to have the biggest impact. And in this century, those areas are education and infrastructure and innovation."