Congress Avoids Debt Crisis, Funding Obstacles Still Ahead

Debt Ceiling

On December 14, after months of brinksmanship, Congress passed legislation raising the debt limit. Senate Majority Leader Schumer and Minority Leader McConnell were able to negotiate a deal allowing Senate Democrats to pass the legislation with only 51 votes. Ten Republicans supported a procedural motion needed to advance the bill without being subject to the filibuster.

Democrats raised the debt limit by $2.5 trillion, avoiding another vote on the issue until after the 2022 midterm elections. Despite the rocky path to get here, this vote was essential – a debt default would lead to government spending cuts across the board and jeopardize the country’s ability to borrow in the future.


The federal government is again operating under a continuing resolution (CR) after budget negotiations in Congress broke down earlier this month. Fiscal year (FY) 2021 ended September 30. At that time, Congress passed a CR to fund the government through December 3, hoping to use that time to find agreement on spending levels. Talks went nowhere, however, as parties failed to resolve differences on the balance between defense and non-defense spending.

On December 3, President Biden signed a continuing resolution which maintains current funding levels through February 18, 2022. Even if Congress is able to pass appropriations legislation in February, the months spent operating under a continuing resolution represent a significant lost opportunity. Especially at a time when there is bipartisan support for increased science funding, a CR stalls scientific progress, creating uncertainty for funding agencies and delaying important new investments.

In hopes of an eventual FY 22 budget, FABBS has joined coalition letters encouraging Congress to provide strong funding for NSF, NIH, and IES.

Appropriations Proposals for Fiscal Year 2022 in Millions (increase over fiscal year 2021)

House$762.5 (+120)$9,629 (+1,129)$49,000 (+6,100)
Senate$814.5 (+172)$9,490 (+990)$47,900 (+5,000)
White House$737.5 (+95)$10,169 (+1,669)$51,952 (9,052)

Build Back Better Act

Meanwhile, Democrats are continuing internal negotiations over the Build Back Better Act, a multi-trillion dollar spending package aimed mostly at expanding the social safety net.

The House of Representatives passed a version of the Build Back Better Act on November 19. The bill offers encouraging signs for science, providing $3.5 billion for the National Science Foundation. This includes $668 million for existing research programs, $500 million to support climate research, and nearly $2 billion for a new Directorate for Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships, in addition to funding for programs to broaden participation and expand research infrastructure.

The real difficulty, however, is in getting the legislation through the Senate. Democrats need to be unanimous in their support to pass this budget reconciliation bill, but have yet to find consensus among their own caucus. Moderates, most prominently Senator Joe Manchin, have expressed concern over the size of the bill, citing rising inflation as one reason for extra caution. Senator Schumer has said that he wants to pass the bill before Christmas, but that timeline is uncertain.