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Trump’s budget is DOA, but here are four hurdles for FY 2020 funding

March 14, 2019
By: Jason Rittenberg

The budget that Congress ultimately passes for FY 2020 will almost certainly bear little resemblance to the President’s “Budget for a Better America: Promises Kept. Taxpayers First.” For example, the White House is requesting again to eliminate EDA and to reduce R&D significantly, despite Congress increasing funding for these activities less than a month ago. Nonetheless, Congress will grapple with a set of issues, such as budget caps and Census funding, that may squeeze the funding available for SSTI members’ priorities. A lot more than a rejection of the White House’s budget needs to happen for science, technology, innovation and entrepreneurship funding to even hold steady let alone increase in FY 2020.

1. Budget Caps[1]

The single most important factor for federal TBED funding is the direction of the overall discretionary budget. The White House’s FY 2020 budget proposes an increase to the budgetary caps on defense spending and an even larger decrease to the non-defense caps. This proposal includes two features harmful for federal TBED policy: reducing overall federal discretionary spending and breaking “parity” between defense and non-defense cap adjustments. FY 2020 is currently governed by caps that were set in 2011, which already would require a significant cut relative to the final FY 2019 budget. The administration is proposing an overall reduction from there. Congress is almost certain to push back against this low level of funding, including on the non-defense cap. There is billions of dollars’ worth of difference in whether the level is above the President’s request, above the statutory cap, or above FY 2019.

2. Decennial Census

This fiscal year must provide substantial funding for the 2020 decennial census. The President’s budget looked to increase census funding by about $3.8 billion, and the relevant Senate committee is preparing for a similar figure. Meeting this need could significantly affect TBED funding. The Census Bureau is funded through the Department of Commerce — as are MEP, EDA and Regional Innovation Strategies — which, in turn, is funded in the same part of the federal budget as the Department of Justice and science agencies (including NASA and NSF). If the appropriations subcommittee for these agencies sees an increase of less than about $4 billion, then cuts to commerce, justice and science will be required to fill the remaining need.

3. Border Funding

Funding for a border barrier was at the heart of the 2018-2019 partial government shutdown. For FY 2020, the starting request includes $5 billion for a wall and additional increases for other border security expenses. This sets up a partisan disagreement over Department of Homeland Security funding, which again could easily ensnare other sections of the budget.

4. House Politics

With Democratic control, the House is in a very different mode for FY 2020 than in FY 2019. This could lead to an easier budget process: for example, Democratic leadership could produce a larger budget, which may align more closely with a typical Senate budget. The new House could also produce a more contentious process: House Democrats have indicated they do not have majority agreement on the budget, and there are fewer moderate members to bridge any partisan divides. While a smooth process seems likely to lean toward the increases for TBED priorities that have occurred in recent years, a contentious process could encourage a full-year continuation of FY 2019 funding, or a number of other possibilities.


Despite these hurdles, there are opportunities for science, technology, innovation and entrepreneurship to see continued increases in FY 2020. To make sure Congress is aware of how important this funding is to regional innovation economies, dozens of SSTI members have asked their delegations to request funding for priority TBED programs. SSTI’s Innovation Advocacy Council is closely tracking the FY 2020 budget process, and we will continue to share updates with members.

Get involved in these efforts by contacting Jason Rittenberg (rittenberg@ssti.org | 614.901.1690).


[1] The discretionary portion of the federal budget — the part that funds nearly all science, tech, innovation and entrepreneurship activities — is subject to a spending cap by a 2011 law. If the budget exceeds the legal limit, which can be changed through another law, then automatic cuts known as “sequestration” go into effect. Congress has elected to set new cap numbers every few years, most recently for 2018 and 2019. When these temporary caps expire, the next year’s funding cap resets to the level required by the 2011 law.


federal budget