Earlier this year, science policy analysts were hopeful that Congress would avert last year's federal budget boondoggle and complete spending bills for fiscal year (FY) 2004 before the budget year begins on October 1. Now, although the House has passed its versions of all 13 appropriations bills and the Senate has passed five, hopes that key science budgets will be finalized in a timely manner seem optimistic.

Differences between key House and Senate appropriations bills promise to be large enough to trigger serious wrangling in still-to-be scheduled conference committees. Funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is likely to be held hostage to an unrelated dispute between the White House and the Senate involving overtime pay regulations. Aides say that President Bush will veto the spending measure if the final bill contains Senate-drafted provisions blocking revisions of Labor Department overtime rules.

"This bill isn't going anywhere as long as...

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