House Votes to Prohibit Political Science Funding

by Erik Voeten on May 10, 2012 · 12 comments

in Blogs

The Flake amendment Henry wrote about appears to have passed the House last night with a 218-208 vote. The amendment prohibits funding for NSF’s political science program, which among others funds many valuable data collection efforts including the National Election Studies. No other program was singled out like this. The vote was essentially party line, with only 5 Democrats voting in favor and 27 Republicans against. Here are some of our previous posts on Tom Coburn’s failed efforts to achieve the same thing.

This is obviously not the last word on this. The provision may be scrapped in the conference committee (Sarah Binder?). But it is clear that political science research is in real danger of a very serious setback.


Jim May 10, 2012 at 9:16 am

A conference is unlikely on this, or any of the regular appropriations bills. I don’t think the Congress has even attempted a conference on a regular appropriations bill since 2009 (data check anyone?). And during an election year it has been even longer. The most likely end-game for appropriations this year is an omnibus package at the end of the year. What could end up in that is anyone’s guess. House Republicans, my guess, are trying to pass some regular approps bills to help themselves in negotiations with the Senate over an omnibus package at the end of the year. If we are all lucky, Jeff Flake is not heavily involved in these negotiations and the language of the amendment just gets left out in the end.

In the meantime, APSA should begin an offensive on this. If political scientists want their funding, they need to do what other similar organizations do on the Hill — develop relationships with offices and explain why the money is worth spending. If APSA could get a champion on the Hill willing to push to preserve this funding, it could turn out well in the fall/winter.

Thomas Leeper May 10, 2012 at 9:32 am

Looks like they also voted to remove funding for the American Community Survey.

John May 10, 2012 at 10:45 am

Jim — I believe the CJS bill for 2012 was passed as a stand-alone conference report, not too far into FY2012 amazingly enough. And in fact the FY2012 omnibus bill (passed in December I believe) was a conference report on the Military Construction/VA approps bill. With most of the other bills tacked on. Your broader point that the endgame will be an omnibus (even if technically a conference report as with FY2012 omnibus) may well be right. But maybe not. For CJS, which is the focus today, the Senate is moving it right along so it may well be that, as with FY2012, the 2013 bill could have a conference committee.

Jim May 10, 2012 at 11:09 am

Neither chamber passed a CJS bill in FY 12. And I’m not sure I would call what they did with MilCon/Vets anything that resembles a regular order conference. The last regular, single bill conference report in approps happened in 2009 when they did it with several, from what I am reading:

But this is splitting hairs. I have a hard time seeing the chambers reporting anything from a conference on a CJS bill that would be passable. And the more I think about it I can’t see the Senate supporting the inclusion of this amendment in a final bill. Not because they love political science, but because of the dangerous precedent of tell the NSF what is and what is not good science in such specific detail. Additionally, given the close vote on the amendment, House Republicans will not have a good argument for keeping it in a conference report, omnibus or otherwise.

John May 10, 2012 at 11:20 am

I stand corrected — thanks, Jim. CJS was passed as part of a mini-CR with Ag and one other bill I think. I was reading info from the subcommittee that essentially meant to convey that they regarded the final CJS product as tantamount to a conference report for purposes of implementation. A common tactic f0r them.

Phillip Ardoin May 10, 2012 at 12:54 pm

Does anyone know if David Price (NC-D) has addressed this issue? As a Political Scientist and representative of a district with several political science programs I would assume he has a clear interest in the issue.

Jim May 10, 2012 at 2:18 pm

Both Rep. Price and Rep. Lipinski (both political scientists) sent dear colleague letters to members of the House with pleas to oppose the flake amendment once it was offered.

anonymous May 10, 2012 at 1:18 pm

The debate on the amendment was very brief; only Ranking Member Fattah spoke in opposition. See pages H2543-4 in yesterday’s Record, if anyone wants to look it up. I think this link will get you there (though you’ll have to scroll to the correct pages):

anonymous May 10, 2012 at 1:19 pm

To clarify: (CJS Subcommittee) Ranking Member

Ryan May 10, 2012 at 3:00 pm

One of the many strange parts of this saga is that Flake apparently holds two political science degrees himself. A BA in international relations and an MA in Political Science. Both from BYU (

Jonathan Mummolo May 10, 2012 at 3:55 pm

To hear Flake’s justification, check out his floor speech last night around 9:50 on this video:

His justification basically consists of noting that wealthy schools receive NSF funds. He then cites the topics of various studies that have received funding in a sarcastic tone so as to make them sound frivolous. Examples:

“What kind of research is NSF charging to our credit cart? $700,000 to develop a new model for international climate change analysis. … $600,000 here spent trying to figure out if policy makers actually do what citizens want them to do. I think we can answer that question in about five minutes when we vote on this amendment. …$301,000 to study gender and political ambition among high school and college students. … $200,000 to study why political candidates make vague statements! That’s what we’re paying for here! These studies might satisfy the curiosities of a few academics, but I seriously doubt society will benefit from them. How can we justify this outcome?”

RobC May 10, 2012 at 4:29 pm

Professor Voeten, how serious a setback to political science research would defunding of the NSF political science program represent? What’s the total amount spent per year on political science research from all sources–university, foundation, NSF, other government grants, etc.? Am I correct that the current level of the NSF political science program is about $11 million per year? Would it be fair to divide the NSF grants by the total of all political science research expenditures to determine how serious a setback the absence of NSF funding would be, or is there an argument that the NSF-funded research is of a different nature, unable to be funded by other sources?

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