The House passed legislation on Wednesday to reauthorize $33 billion for federal scientific research programs.

Passage by a vote of 217-205 fell largely along party lines.

The bill would establish grant funding and programs through 2020 across multiple agencies, including the National Science Foundation (NSF), Department of Energy and National Institutes of Standards and Technology.


Democrats charged that the GOP was underfunding necessary research programs in a manner that would undermine efforts to increase American scientific competitiveness. The measure would, among other provisions, cut NSF's funding for social behavior and economic sciences research by 55 percent compared to current enacted spending levels.

"You could argue that this is not an investment in the 21st century at all. It's a throwback bill to the 20th century," said Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.).

But Republicans said the legislation would ensure that taxpayer funds aren't used for research projects that some may view as silly or unnecessary. They cited examples of spending hundreds of thousands of dollars for studying human-set fires in New Zealand in the 1800s and a musical about climate change.

"Unfortunately, NSF has funded a number of projects that do not meet the highest standards of scientific merit. From climate change musicals to evaluating animal photographs in National Geographic to studying human-set fires in New Zealand in the 1800s. There are dozens of other examples," said House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas).

"The bill assures accountability by restoring the original intent of the 1950 NSF Act in requiring that all grants serve the national interest," Smith said.

Many scientific research associations oppose the bill, including the American Academy of Political and Social Science, American Anthropological Association, American Association of Physics Teachers, Association of American Universities, Geological Society of America and Union of Concerned Scientists.

President Obama has issued a veto threat against the measure due to concerns over the authorized funding levels. 

Before final passage, the House rejected an amendment from Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.) by a vote of 187-236 that would eliminate a provision in the bill requiring a comptroller general report identifying duplicative climate science related research across federal agencies. 

Under the provision, the director of the Department of Energy's Office of Science and Technology Policy would not allowed to approve new climate science related initiatives "without making a determination that such work is unique and not duplicative of work by other agencies." Any duplicative research efforts would have to end within three months unless the director justifies that it is "critical to achieving American energy security."

Lowenthal warned that the legislation would restrict efforts to independently verify scientific research results.

"A basic tenet of science is that you have to reproduce scientific results," Lowenthal said. "Now Congress is trying to legislate changes to the scientific method. And I think that's a shame."

But Republicans maintained the bill's provision would ensure that federal agencies don't overlap.

"All members of Congress should support transparency in federally funded research," said Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.).