Yesterday the Consortium of Social Science Associations reported that “It is now certain that Congress will enact a Continuing Resolution.” This marks four years in a row that Congress has failed to fund government through appropriations bills.

COSSA also reports, “This means that the Coburn Amendment restricting the National Science Foundation’s Political Science program will likely extend, at least into the early months of FY 2014.”

When Congress uses a Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund government, they are essentially agreeing to continue the previously agreed-to funding levels because they have not been able to agree on new funding levels. This kick-the-can approach has been all Congress can do in recent years to keep government functioning—nothing more than an agreement to keep breathing.  Since the current status quo includes NSF restrictions on political science, a renewal of that status quo renews the restrictions.

No congressional policy debate can take place in a vacuum, however. At least part of the reason Congress is failing to act on appropriations is because Congress has many big ticket items on its plate. First, sometime in mid-October the government will (again) reach its borrowing limit, and the statutory limit to borrow more money on behalf of government will have to be increased, or risk default. Increasingly, fiscal and ideological conservatives have come to view these debt-ceiling votes as an opportunity to draw attention to fiscal irresponsibility and at least some members of the GOP will again use this vote to leverage political gain (by, for example, attaching a rider that repeals Obamacare).

Second, there is increasing pressure on congress to stem the increasing tide of sequester cuts that were negotiated in 2011 and began kicking in earlier this year. According to current law, in 2014 the government must cut $109.3 billion, half of which will come from defense. Predictably, there is strong resistance to these cuts, but congress will have to act in order to stop them.

Third, Congress is busy. There is still a strong Republican movement to defund, repeal, or otherwise block Obamacare. Some Republicans have suggested adding a rider to the CR, or to a debt ceiling increase, that would include restrictive Obamacare language of some kind. It seems increasingly unlikely that such a rider will be in the CR, however. Also, the already-packed congressional agenda was recently hijacked by Syria—actually, by President Obama who asked Congress to give permission for military action in Syria.

The point is nothing in Congress happens on its own. The fate of one policy (like NSF restrictions on Political Science) is fundamentally tied to the actions on dozens of other moving targets in Congress. There is little hope that legislative action will lift political science funding restrictions this fall—restrictions continue at least until early 2014.

[Cross-posted at Mischiefs of Faction]

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