The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee has passed its version of the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act. At a low-key Executive Session on July 22, the committee considered this bill, S. 3605, along with two bills related to offshore oil drilling and another bill on the reallocation of radio spectrum.
There was little discussion about the COMPETES legislation before it was passed. Chairman John Rockefeller (D-WV) explained that the committee staff had spent hours working out the details on various amendments “to try to make people happy.” His spoke about the COMPETES bill for about a minute, noting that the original 2007 legislation was passed in response to the “Rising Above the Gathering Storm” report. This law expires at the end of next month. Rockefeller said S. 3605 “continues key investments in research and development and STEM education - drivers of America’s economy and keys to our competitiveness in the global marketplace. A strong high-tech workforce is fundamental to addressing the challenges of the 21st century – from developing clean sources of energy to discovering cures for diseases. The small investments we make now will pay incredible dividends down the road.”
Ranking Member Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) spoke about the importance of passing the bill, remarking in her oral and written opening statements that “Science and technology are at the core of America’s ability to compete in an increasingly globalized economy and for solving many of the challenges we face as a nation in energy independence, biotechnology, and healthcare. STEM education plays an essential role in fostering further development of the 21st Century’s innovation-based economy. Several recent studies caution, however, that a danger exists that Americans may not know enough about the STEM fields to significantly contribute to, or benefit fully from, the knowledge-based society that is taking shape around us.”
Of note, Hutchison’s written remarks also stated, “While I appreciate the Chairman’s [Rockefeller] willingness to work with me to reduce the funding levels by about 10 percent from the measure introduced, I believe we will need to further adjust the funding levels before this bill can be joined with the Titles from the HELP [Health, Education, Labor and Pensions] and Energy [and Natural Resources] Committees and pass the full Senate. We’ve come a long way in streamlining the bill, but we have more work to do. But I will certainly join in supporting the bill being reported today and look forward to helping move it through the legislative process in a bipartisan manner.”
Following these remarks, Hutchison made a single motion for the committee to pass the COMPETES bill and two other bills as amended. Rockefeller called for a voice vote, and all present voted “yes.”
The House Science and Technology Committee passed its version of this bill in late April at a markup session stretching over almost nine hours. H.R. 5116 finally passed the House in late May following two unsuccessful attempts during which Republicans faulted the bill for authorizing what they termed excessive spending. )
The full Senate has not voted on its bill, and leaves this week for a summer recess lasting until September 10. Senate floor time is a scarce commodity, and it is difficult to know when the bill will be considered. There are differences between the House and Senate bills that will have to be resolved. Following committee passage of the Senate bill, House Science and Technology Committee Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN) issued the following statement:
“I applaud Senator Rockefeller for his work moving this important piece of legislation. The legislation that the Senators voted on moved the funding levels in line with what passed the House in May. I applaud their work, balancing importance of these investments with realities of our current fiscal environment. This pragmatic approach - and the bipartisan manner with which it passed - will go a long way toward getting this important piece of legislation signed into law, and protecting our nation’s scientific and economic leadership. I look forward to working with Senator Rockefeller and Senator Hutchinson as the process moves along.”