Federal financing of science research, which has risen quickly since the Obama administration came to power, could fall back to pre-Obama levels if the incoming Republican leadership in the House of Representatives follows through on its list of campaign promises.
In the Republican platform, Pledge to America, the party vows to cut discretionary nonmilitary spending to 2008 levels. Under that plan, research and development at nonmilitary agencies — including those that sponsor science and health research — would fall 12.3 percent, to $57.8 billion, from the Mr. Obama’s request of $65.9 billion for fiscal year 2011.
An analysis by the American Association for the Advancement of Science looked at what would happen if all of the agencies were cut to the 2008 amounts. The National Institutes of Health would lose $2.9 billion, or 9 percent, of its research money. The National Science Foundation would lose more than $1 billion, or almost 19 percent, of its budget, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration would lose $324 million, or 34 percent.
“These agencies would be more severely impacted by a rollback to 2008,” said Patrick Clemins, who directs budget programs at the association.
What will actually emerge from the final 2011 budget bills is “really unclear,” Mr. Clemins said. “The pledge is very vague in terms of what programs will be cut,” he said.
Mr. Clemins noted that Mr. Obama had already asked federal agencies to prepare for a 5 percent cut in their budgets for 2012.
The Democrats could try to push the budget bills through the Congress before the Republicans take power in January, but since the Democrats do not have the votes to end a Senate filibuster, success would be unlikely.
For the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, budget limbo is the new normal. NASA continues to operate on its 2010 budget and work on the program to send astronauts back to the moon, even though the Obama administration has pushed to cancel the moon program and Congress largely agreed.
Some Republicans were critical of the Obama proposal, saying it cut too deeply into the human space flight program and left the agency without a clear mission. On the other hand, the Republican push to rein in spending could lead to further cuts in that part of NASA’s budget.
Another uncertainty is money for stem cell research, which has been in flux since a federal judge ruled in August that any federal financing violated a Congressional ban against the destruction of embryos for research. “I think everyone is holding their breaths and seeing what happens in the courts,” said Joanne Carney, director of the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s Center for Science, Technology and Congress.