the remarkable budget deal

Many have been rightly alarmed by the Trump Administration’s commitments to terminate programs related to scholarship and science, aspects of k-16 education, environmental and climate research, and national and community service. The critical response from citizens has been appropriate and welcome. But it’s also valuable to recognize the limits on any administration’s ability to change federal priorities, the degree to which valuable programs enjoy bipartisan support in Congress, and the extraordinarily inept record of the Trump team so far.

All of those factors are evident in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2017. The bill is 1,665 pages long, and it is written as a set of dollar figures plus instructions (“riders”). Because these aren’t presented as changes compared to last year, it is hard to see what Congress has done. But as far as I can tell, most of the changes have been in the direction of more funding for education, culture, science, and even climate science.

The National Institutes of Health, National Endowment for the Humanities, and National Endowment for the Arts all see increases (source). NEH’s research funding is modestly cut, while support for the State Humanities Councils goes up. (My friend Elizabeth Lynn has explained how the State Councils are responsible for the NEH’s political fortunes since the 1970s.) The Corporation for Public Broadcasting is fully funded (source).

EPA faces a one percent overall cut. The Department of Energy’s research budget and the National Science Foundation see increases. Climate research within DoE is boosted. “The Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service and Fish and Wildlife Service all would see more money under the bill, which included few policy riders for the agencies” (source). NOAA receives an increase, and the Climate Program Office within NOAA is held flat. The National Environmental Information Office and Regional Climate Centers have flat budgets.

Education as a whole is cut by 0.1%. Within Education, Title I funding rises; support for education research is trimmed.

The bill “restores year-round Pell Grant funding, a longtime priority sought by student aid groups since its elimination as a cost-saving measure in 2011. The deal also … provides modest increases to college readiness programs TRIO and GEAR UP, which were reduced significantly in the proposed White House 2018 budget plan” (source).

Normally, the president proposes and Congress disposes. In this case, the president has alienated enough potential allies, failed to fill enough key positions, and played his hand so badly that after he proposed, Congress just developed an entirely different budget on a fairly bipartisan basis. To be sure, next year could be worse; and some of the people responsible for implementing these programs will do their best to sabotage them. Still, the new budget deal ought to be an antidote to defeatism.

(See also “mixed feelings on the DeVos nomination battle,” in which I argued that the new Education Secretary will have very limited impact on policy.)

About Peter

Associate Dean for Research and the Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Tufts University's Tisch College of Civic Life. Concerned about civic education, civic engagement, and democratic reform in the United States and elsewhere.
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