Congress took a giant step on Wednesday toward easing the threat of another budget stalemate, but the price of securing that compromise will continue to be felt at research universities and especially at those involved in political science.
The Senate, by a vote of 73 to 26, approved a measure to finance the government through the end of the fiscal year, on September 30. The bill is expected to win approval in the House of Representatives.
But the legislation would restore very little of the 5-percent cuts in the budgets of the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation that took effect on March 1 as a result of a process known as sequestration.
And the Senate included an amendment that broadly restricts the ability of the NSF to approve any grants involving political science unless the agency can certify them "as promoting national security or the economic interests of the United States."
The amendment was proposed by Sen. Tom Coburn, a Republican of Oklahoma who has sharply criticized the foundation's spending priorities.
Mr. Coburn sent a letter last week to the NSF's director, Subra Suresh, listing a series of agency-financed projects he considered a waste of taxpayer money. His list included several involving political science, including studies of voter attitudes toward the Senate filibuster and of the cooperation between the president and Congress.
Such subjects "may be interesting questions to ponder or explore" but aren't necessarily the best use of taxpayer money, Mr. Coburn told Mr. Suresh. "Studies of presidential executive power and Americans' attitudes toward the Senate filibuster hold little promise to save an American's life from a threatening condition or to advance America's competitiveness in the world," he wrote.
The Senate vote drew condemnation from Michael Brintnall, executive director of the American Political Science Association, who called it a dangerous act of political interference in science.
"Basically, it's shutting down a whole mode of independent federally funded research on the behavior of the government," Mr. Brintnall said.