Two House members recently proposed an amendment to create an independent commission to study charges that the Bush Administration has politicized scientific advice. The amendment to H.R. 2432, the Paperwork and Regulatory Improvements Act, introduced by Reps. Henry Waxman (D-CA) and John Tierney (D-MA), was rejected by a vote of 201-226 on May 18. Most members voted along party lines, with one Republican voting for the amendment and five Democrats voting against it. Members' votes on Roll Call Vote 187 can be found on the Library of Congress web site, THOMAS, at http://clerk.house.gov/evs/2004/roll187.xml. As reported in FYI #64, Waxman, the Ranking Minority Member of the Government Reform Committee, was the initiator of a report that charges the Administration with manipulating scientific advice and information for ideological and political purposes. Selected excerpts from the floor debate on this amendment follow:
HENRY WAXMAN (D-CA): "We as policymakers or the regulatory agencies need good science, science that has not been interfered with by politicians. That is why the gentleman from Massachusetts (Mr. Tierney) and I are offering this amendment to establish an independent commission to investigate whether science is being politicized and to make recommendations to Congress to protect scientific integrity. This amendment responds to the concerns of the scientific community. Twenty Nobel Laureates, major scientific organizations, and leading scientific and medical journals have protested a pattern of political interference with science by the Bush administration. This pattern has involved gagging scientists, suppressing research, and rewriting reports to eliminate scientific answers that conflict with the administration's political or ideological agenda. It has also involved misleading the public and Congress on key scientific facts, manipulating performance measures for ideologically favored programs, and stacking advisory committees, scientific advisory committees stacked with people who will come up with the right political answer."
NICK SMITH (R-MI): "I would suggest this kind of partisan language would not be appropriate in any legislation. I assume the goal of the gentleman from California (Mr. Waxman) is not to politicize science and research, yet I respectfully suggest that is what this amendment does. And the comments of the gentleman on the floor were sort of blasting the Bush administration for some of the things that they have done.... This amendment requires that a commission be created to study the politicization of science by the Bush administration. What we all sort of agree is, politicizing this is what we are doing with this amendment."
SHERROD BROWN (D-OH): "We have an oversight role, and under our watch, science is being subverted to promote political and ideological goals.... This is a dangerous, dangerous precedent. This did not happen with President Bush, Sr., it did not happen with President Clinton, it did not happen with President Reagan, it did not happen with Republican or Democratic Presidents the way it is happening today under this very politicized, very partisan, very ideologically driven White House.... I don't think we have had this kind of cynicism that we see today with respect to objective scientific advice since I have been watching government, which is quite a long time."
PHIL GINGREY (R-GA): "What we are talking about is having rules and regulations based on good science that makes sense.... The amendment is purely a political attack on the Bush administration and asserts that political considerations have undermined the quality and use of science. Listen to what President Bush's science adviser, Dr. Marburger, recently stated, ‘The President believes that policies should be made with the best and most complete information possible and expects his administration to conduct its business with integrity and in a way that fulfills that belief.' Mr. Chairman, this is a good bill and it is a bad amendment."
EDDIE BERNICE JOHNSON (D-TX): "It is true that the plural of anecdote is not data. However, at some point a series of anecdotes begins to look like a pattern. The pattern is disturbing and threatens to undermine our ability to rely on scientific and technical information as we weigh alternative policies. At a minimum, the number of cases and the range of scientific issues they encompass create the perception that the Federal science advisory process has been undermined by politics. The perception alone is damaging. Policymakers and the public must have confidence in scientific information and scientific advice provided by experts."
TOM DAVIS (R-VA): "The amendment is supposed to create an expert commission to study the politicization of science and make recommendations for how to protect science in the regulatory process from political and ideological manipulation and interference. The problem with a commission like this is it is designed to find a problem and highlight it. Whether the problem is real or serious the commission fails if it finds nothing at all. This is the kind of unfair fishing expedition that can only harm and destroy public faith in the Federal rulemaking process.... There is no question that the Bush administration is surpassing previous administrations in its commitment to good science.... Mr. Chairman, it does not make sense to fund an unneeded commission with a predetermined finding that will misrepresent the good work of this administration."
JOHN TIERNEY (D-MA): "I am always amazed to see how frightening it is for our colleagues to be confronted with a nonpartisan study, and that would be by a commission that was appointed by the President and by members of that party and members of this party.... It is our obligation, if the President is putting a twist onto different regulations and either avoiding their implementation or manipulating them and missing science altogether, our obligation is to make sure this is set right; and a commission should look at it to make sure that all regulations are either enforced or implemented based on good, hard science and not ideology and politics, as many are accusing the President of doing.... I would assume there are members in the Republican Party who are sensible enough to want to have a good analysis of this done, and want to put aside all of the political shenanigans of this administration."
DOUG OSE (R-CA): "If my colleagues look at the amendment, it refers to a report put out by the minority staff entitled, ‘Politics and Science in the Bush Administration.' We have not had that report vetted. It was issued by the minority staff. There has been no input by the majority staff or review. I daresay that that would be a very, very dangerous template to set for this Congress, because who knows what other committees might adopt majority or minority reports and then just jam them down the other side's throat. I would urge my colleagues to oppose this amendment and instead seek to have it discussed under the purview of the Committee on Science.... This may well be a very serious issue, but this is not the vehicle where it should properly be discussed."