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Congress Breaks Stimulus Logjam

Science, energy, education get big boost in sweeping package

by Jeff Johnson and Susan Morrissey
February 16, 2009 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 87, Issue 7

Credit: Aude Guerrucci/Pool/Sipa Press
Obama speaks out in support of the stimulus package.
Credit: Aude Guerrucci/Pool/Sipa Press
Obama speaks out in support of the stimulus package.

LAST WEEK, Congress reached agreement on a nearly $790 billion package of tax breaks and spending—including at least $17 billion for science agencies—intended to revive the economy and create jobs. President Barack Obama pushed hard for the package and thanked Democrats and Republicans alike for a "hard-fought compromise that will save or create more than 3.5 million jobs and get our economy back on track."

The American Recovery & Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) is now expected to zip through both bodies of Congress and get to the President's desk by Feb. 16—President's Day—a due date the President and Democratic Party leaders had sought.

The bill drove a deep wedge between the Democrats and Republicans, however, and cleared the House in late January without a single Republican vote. In the Senate, the bill cleared last week by two votes, with three Republicans joining all Democrats. The three—Maine Sens. Susan M. Collins and Olympia J. Snowe and Pennsylvania's Sen. Arlen Specter—wound up leading the way in shaping a compromise acceptable to Obama and holding enough votes to clear both bodies.

The agreement contains a mix of tax cuts and support for unemployed workers, as well as investments in infrastructure, health care, education and training, energy, and science. Tax relief covers about 35% of the bill's total costs. The bill's impact would be spread over 10 years, although most of the spending would take place in the first two years.

When fully implemented, provisions could transform the nation's energy programs and boost science spending significantly.

Details of the fast-track agreement had yet to be published when C&EN went to press, but a fact sheet provided by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) explained select provisions. More than $20 billion would be directed to tax incentives for renewable energy, energy efficiency, weatherization programs, and other energy-related activities to encourage deployment of solar, wind, advanced battery, geothermal, biomass, and other technologies.

Pelosi estimates that at least $17 billion would be direct science funding. NIH would receive the bulk of this money, with $8.5 billion to expand biomedical research and $1.5 billion to support renovations of university research facilities.

Some $3 billion would go to NSF for basic research. NIST would get nearly $600 million to support research, research facility renovation and construction, and its extramural Technology Innovation Program & Manufacturing Extension Partnership. About $1 billion would go to NASA, nearly half of which would be for climate-change work.

The Department of Energy's Office of Science would receive a $1.6 billion boost for R&D in climate science, biofuels, and other energy-related areas. The Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, a new program approved by Congress but never funded, would receive $400 million. The program is intended to support high-risk, high-payoff government research done in collaboration with industry.

"Federal investments for these agencies in ARRA are an essential step to rebuilding our economy and planting the seeds of our future economic growth," said ACS President Thomas H. Lane in a letter to congressional leaders thanking them for their support of science funding in the stimulus bill.


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