The Debt Ceiling Deal and Subcommittee Allocations – Implications for Research Funding

On May 27, less than a week before the U.S. was expected to default on its debts, President Biden and Speaker McCarthy reached a long-awaited deal on the debt ceiling. Congress acted quickly to pass the Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023 (H.R. 3746) that reflected the components of the agreement: to suspend, until January 1, 2025, the self-imposed limit on the nation’s borrowing and cap federal discretionary spending over the next two years. 

Following the agreement, the House Appropriations Committee announced allocations for fiscal year 2024 (FY24) for the 12 subcommittees with a $131.2 billion cut to discretionary spending below 2023, and below the agreed upon levels. While some committees received increases, the two subcommittees funding federal agencies that support behavioral and brain science were both cut: 

  • Commerce-Justice-Science received $58.7 billion, a $23.8 billion cut from FY23  
  • Labor-HHS-Education received $147.1 billion, a $60 billion cut from FY23 

The Senate Appropriations Committee has also approved suballocations for FY24 bills reflecting the topline spending levels in the debt limit agreement – a $12 billion cut to discretionary spending below FY 2023 levels. The Senate suballocation for the agencies of interest to FABBS were: 

  • Commerce-Justice-Science received $69.6 billion, a $12.8 billion cut from FY23 levels.  
  • Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies (Labor-H) received $195.2, a $12 billion cut below FY 2023 levels.  

Given the disparate starting points in the two chambers, not to mention a long track record of failing to agree on a budget before the end of the fiscal year, advocates are bracing for a continuing resolution (CR) to keep the government open after the September 30th end of FY23. This result would be particularly unfavorable for the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).  

In FY23, following the passage of the CHIPS and Science Act, Congress provided NSF with $1 billion in supplemental emergency funding, bringing the overall operating budget to $9.8 billion. Significant cuts to the agency’s programs are inevitable should Congress provide anything less than this number.  

The cuts to NIMH would be disappointing as the President’s budget for FY24 provided a $15.6 million – 6.1 percent – increase in the NIMH budget, reflecting the nation’s focus on Mental health research. The proposed funding levels make it difficult for the agency to fully carry out the Administration’s priorities.