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Outlook for Science in the 118th Congress

January 13, 2023

Speakership

After a historic number of attempts (15!) and considerable drama, on January 7th, House Republicans elected Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) to be Speaker of the House. Speaker McCarthy made a long list of concessions in order to get the votes he needed, including an agreement to cap future budgets at FY22 levels, addressing the debt ceiling (we could hit in July), promises on committee assignments, open amendments, reinstatement of Holman’s rule, and a process for removing McCarthy, among others. With these constraints, it is very difficult to imagine a scenario where the House will be able to find agreement with a Democratic Senate on a budget for FY24 that the President would sign.  Accordingly, advocates are bracing themselves for a full-year continuing resolution. 

Appropriations

For the first time in history the ‘four corners’ – chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees – will be all women. Having won a majority, albeit narrowly, House Republicans move from Ranking Members to Chairs. Representative Kay Granger (R-TX), Chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee (HAC) has developed her list of ‘cardinals,’ the twelve Republicans to lead each of the HAC subcommittees. Despite several requests for waivers, Chair Granger is expected to honor term limits, moving some members to new committees and creating a game of musical chairs. FABBS tracks two HAC subcommittees with jurisdiction over federal agencies funding the behavioral and brain sciences: Labor, Health and Human Services (LHHS) – NIH, IES and ARPA-H; and Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) – NSF. While still requiring approval from the GOP steering committee, it is widely believed that Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY) will take the helm of CJS, and Rep. Aderholt will lead LHHS, replacing the former top Republican Rep Tom Cole (R-OK) who had surpassed his six-year time limit.

Each subcommittee chair will determine tone and content of hearings with department heads and scrutinize and control the budgets of agencies over the next two years.

Speaker Kevin McCarthy has promised to bring all 12 annual appropriations bills to the floor, a tall order any year and particularly with his threadbare margin of control.

In the Senate, the new top two appropriators Chair Patty Murray (D-WA) and Vice Chair Susan Collins (R-ME) released a joint statement stressing a bipartisan commitment towards funding the government and passing FY24 appropriations on time.

Authorization

The change in House majority similarly affects leadership of authorizing committees, as do some notable retirements. The House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology will be led by Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) who worked closely and collaboratively with the recently retired Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) (see this article for reflections on her five decades in public service). Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) will be stepping into the role of Ranking Member.

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