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House Halts Vote On Science Bill

Politics: Parliamentary maneuvers delay vote on America Competes reauthorization bill

by Susan R. Morrissey
May 14, 2010 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 88, Issue 20

Just as the House of Representatives was nearing a final vote yesterday on legislation to reauthorize support of basic science research and education, a motion to effectively scale back science agency funding authorization passed. This parliamentary maneuver by House Republicans resulted in the Democratic leadership pulling the America Competes Reauthorization Act (H.R. 5116) from consideration.

"Republicans again refused to work together to help the middle class and continue creating jobs," said House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (Md.) in a statement. "Instead they chose to play a political game with a gotcha amendment intended solely to block the Competes Act, which is a key measure to create the jobs that will keep our nation the world's leader in research and development."

The bill reauthorizes the America Competes Act signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2007 after receiving bipartisan support. The law, which is set to expire this year, intends to boost U.S. competitiveness by increasing federal support for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics research and education.

H.R. 5116 authorizes the budgets for three key agencies: the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Standard & Technology, and the Department of Energy's Office of Science. The five-year authorized funding levels would keep the agencies on track for a 10 year budget doubling that will conclude in 2017 (C&EN, May 3, page 10). H.R. 5116 also includes support for several new and existing innovation and education programs.

But the bill's $86 billion price tag—assuming appropriators provided the authorized funds over the five-year term—was too much for Republican's to support. After failed attempts to cut the authorization period to 3 years and remove support for programs they felt were not in line with the original legislation, House Science & Technology Committee ranking minority member Ralph Hall (R-Texas) offered a motion to recommit the bill back to his committee for changes.

"I remain committed to the underlying goals of the America Competes Act and believe that we should continue to prioritize investments in basic research and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education," Hall said in a statement.  "However, this bill spends too much money and goes far beyond the original intent and scope of the Competes legislation."

In addition to cutting the overall cost of the bill by shortening its reauthorization term, Hall's motion included language that barred the use of funds to pay salaries of government employees disciplined for viewing pornography on work computers. Because Democrats didn't want to be seen as supporting the viewing of pornography by government workers, many voted for the motion even though it meant support for science would be cut. Once the motion was adopted by a 292-126 vote, the decision was made to halt further consideration of the bill.

"I'm disappointed that politics trumped good policy," said the bill's sponsor Science & Technology Committee Chairman Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.) in a statement. "The minority was willing to trade American jobs and our nation's economic competitiveness for the chance to run a good political ad."

As for the bill's current status, Hoyer called the Republican motion simply a delay and said he looks forward to "bringing the legislation back to the House Floor next week."


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