At 6:50 P.M. yesterday the House Science and Technology Committee approved by a vote of 29 “yes” to 8 “no” votes the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010. “It’s been a long day. You have been part of history,” Committee Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN) told his colleagues after they had spent the entire day working on this bill that now goes to the House floor.
The committee began its work a little after 10:00 A.M., with Gordon announcing that it would be considering 60 amendments to the 222-page bill that he had introduced in the House on April 22. Both Gordon and Ranking Member Ralph Hall (R-TX) gave upbeat opening statements, with Gordon emphasizing the bipartisan process that brought the bill before the full committee. Hall spoke of the importance of investments in basic science research and development, but also described his concerns about the cost of the bill, the new programs it authorizes, and “our current dire economic situation.” When the committee cast its final vote on the bill the tally approximately followed party lines. All of the committee’s Democrats voted for the bill (Steven Rothman (NJ) and Charles Wilson (OH) did not vote). Five Republicans voted for the bill: Judy Biggert (IL), Brian Bilbray (CA), Vernon Ehlers (MI), Bob Inglis (SC), and Michael McCaul (TX). All 8 “no” votes were cast by committee’s Republicans (Roscoe Bartlett (MD), James Sensenbrenner (WI), and Lamar Smith (TX) did not vote.)
An authorization bill has two major purposes: establishing or continuing a federal agency, program, or activity, and setting funding limits to guide appropriations bills. Yesterday’s markup revolved around both, with much discussion about money. After introducing his bill last week, Gordon reworked the numbers to reduce the total authorized funding level by 10 percent in an amended version he brought before the committee yesterday. “We will maintain a doubling path for our research accounts over the next ten years, but on a slightly less steep trajectory.” Hall described his concerns that seven new programs or initiatives in the bill “are potentially duplicative of current efforts and divert funding away from basic science research and development,” adding that they increase the authorization level by billions of dollars.
Many of the Republican-sponsored amendments sought to reduce the total cost of the reworked bill that Gordon brought before the committee. The bill authorizes about $82 billion in spending for five years, with annual budget increases of approximately 7 percent for the National Science Foundation, DOE Office of Science, and the laboratory program of the National Institute of Standards and Technology. When projected for ten years, these budgets would be doubled, using the 2007 appropriations as the base. Actual funding will be provided through the annual appropriations bills.
A good indicator of how the day’s voting would go was the committee’s response to an amendment offered by Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA) to strike the authorization levels for 2014 and 2015. Arguing that it would it would reduce the bill’s cost by $45 billion while increasing the committee’s oversight and stewardship, Broun’s amendment was opposed by Gordon who called it a “false savings” since it did not change the authorized rate of spending in 2011, 2012, and 2013. Rep. Brian Baird (D-WA) said the amendment would undermine science, since obtaining research results often takes a longer time. The amendment lost by 11 yes votes to 24 no votes. Voting approximately followed party lines, with all (voting) Democrats voting against the amendment, and all (voting) Republicans voting for it, with the exception of Biggert and Ehlers who voted against the amendment, and Bartlett who voted present. Two similar amendments offered by Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) were also voted down, one by 11 yes votes to 25 no votes (one present) and the other by voice vote.
Some Republican amendments were successful. Following a failed attempt to reduce the ARPA-E authorization period from ten years to three years, the committee agreed to an amendment by Rep. Dana Rohrbacher (R-CA) to a reduction of five years. Rohrbacher contended that as a new agency, a shorter authorization period would allow a future Congress to make needed adjustments in ARPA-E’s programs. An amendment offered by Biggert to reduce ARPA-E’s authorization levels was rejected on a voice vote.
Most of the committee’s actions were done by voice vote on topics such as participation of underrepresented individuals in STEM education, fellowships, and research; advanced manufacturing education; a new NSF innovation prize; bricks-and-mortar renovation of academic facilities; the matching of federal funding for some academic programs; sustainability research; STEM education in rural schools; internships; green energy; the NIST laboratory structure; a new federal loan guarantee program at the Department of Commerce; procurement of custom manufactured components for national laboratories and accelerators; a prohibition on using earmarked Office of Science funds for MRI machines in hospitals; the inclusion of hydrogen in liquid transportation fuels research; DOE climate change research; the conduct of ARPA-E research; Energy Innovation Hub; fossil energy research; a prohibition on using federal funding for lobbying; STEM education for disabled veterans; fusion research; and the participation of foreign scientists and entities in federally supported research. Other amendments dealt with intentional patent infringement and deriving federal revenues from taxpayer supported research. Not all were approved. In several cases, amendment sponsors agreed to withdraw their amendments so that compromise language could be developed.
As the mark-up moved toward its conclusion, Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-TX) offered an amendment to freeze authorization levels in the bill at current levels because of the growing budget deficit. That was rejected by 8 yes to 23 no votes, with Biggert joining Democrats in opposition to the amendment. Broun offered an amendment to strike the new programs that were authorized in the bill, contending that this would prioritize core research programs at the three agencies. That amendment was also rejected: 9 yes votes to 25 no votes, again almost completely on party lines.
“The bill is favorably reported” said Chairman Gordon as the committee concluded its work. The next step for H.R. 5116 is its consideration by the full House. Gordon hopes to have the House consider it before it leaves for the Memorial Day recess. The themes that are likely to shape floor consideration are indicated by the titles on the statements issued by the committee’s Democratic Members and Republican Members last night:
Democrats: “Legislation Advancing Innovation Clears Committee With Bipartisan Support”
Republicans: “Committee Approves ‘COMPETES’ Bill as Republicans Offer 39 Amendments to Address Increased Costs, Funding Priorities.”