The inability of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives and Democrat-controlled Senate to find common ground will continue to plague the second session of the 112th Congress, as partisan fighting shows no sign of decreasing. As a result, important chemical-related issues, such as curbing greenhouse gas emissions, modernizing the Toxic Substances Control Act, and reforming chemical plant security regulations, will face an uphill battle.
Another confounding factor is that this is an election year, which means Congress is likely to spend much of its time grandstanding. Members will want to spend as much time on the campaign trail as possible, as opposed to staying on Capitol Hill and working through legislation.
Any bills that do pass are likely to be cast in terms of jobs. Members of both the House and the Senate have already spun much of the legislation introduced in the first session of this Congress in terms of creating jobs if they support it, or killing jobs if they oppose it.
For example, over the past year, the House has passed some 27 bills that Republican leaders identified as key “jobs bills.” The measures received little support from Democrats, who classified them as antienvironmental and a threat to health and safety. The legislation, none of which has cleared the Senate, would have, among other things, eliminated air pollution regulations for coal-fired power plants and cement manufacturers, sped drilling off Alaska’s coast, and ended the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases.
This is the situation in which several key science and technology issues will be competing for attention. On top of pushes to make permanent the R&D tax credit for businesses and set up various user fees at the Food & Drug Administration, Congress will also be working through what promises to be a very tight 2012 federal budget. The budget will impact all aspects of science and technology.
The following is C&EN’s annual outlook of what to expect from Congress in the year ahead.