As reported in FYI #147, the House passed the Manufacturing Technology Competitiveness Act (H.R. 250) on September 21. The bill calls for several new grant programs and fellowships to improve manufacturing, as well as an interagency committee to coordinate federal programs in manufacturing R&D. It would authorize most NIST programs, but not the Advanced Technology Program (ATP), which the Bush Administration has targeted for elimination. On the House floor, a number of Democrats from the House Science Committee argued that the bill should have included an authorization for the ATP, while bill sponsor Vern Ehlers (R-MI) and Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) replied that such an addition could doom the bill's chances. Selected excerpts from the floor debate follow:
REP. SHERWOOD BOEHLERT (R-NY): "[O]ur goal with this bill is to improve the lot of American manufacturers. ATP is a controversial issue that will weigh down the progress on this bill. There is no reason for that to happen. We ought to debate this bill on its merits, which are not contested, and then handle ATP separately. I support ATP. I helped create the program. I will work with the appropriators to try to keep it funded. But I also support this bill, and I see no reason to kill this important bill to allow a political debate on ATP."
REP. BART GORDON (D-TN): "What we have today is a missed opportunity.... It makes no sense that a bill whose goal it is to bolster manufacturing competitiveness and innovation does not include ATP funding.... The idea that, well, let us not put it on here because it might weigh the bill down and the President may not like this, well, we know the President does not like it. But the fact of the matter is that the Senate has already appropriated money for it. Last week, the Senate voted 2 to 1 to reject taking it out [see http://www.aip.org/fyi/2005/136.html], so why can the House of Representatives not stand up here also and get a majority vote, which we will get on the ATP program, which is a good program and would make H.R. 250 really a bill worth doing."
REP. MARK UDALL (D-CO): "I rise in support of this bill even though we have missed an opportunity to improve upon it.... While this bill widely supports MEP it leaves behind another highly successful program, ATP. We have continually heard the majority express their support for this program, but time and time again they have not taken the opportunity to fund it.... [W]hat I see is that the Republican majority supports this important program with words, rather than deeds. I was hopeful that we would agree with the Senate and support ATP aggressively since the program has proven to be effective. Now we must look to the Senate to improve this bill."
REP. VERN EHLERS (R-MI): "This bill is essentially the same bill that I authored and which the House passed in July 2004. Unfortunately, the Senate did not take up the legislation because of a dispute involving the ATP program, so the bill died in the Senate. I am hopeful that this time the bill will make it all the way through the process and be signed into law by the President."
REP. MIKE HONDA (D-CA): "At a June 2003 Committee on Science hearing on manufacturing R&D, the witnesses were unanimous in their belief that ATP was an important element to improving the U.S. manufacturing infrastructure and competitiveness.... It is the job of the Congress, not the President, to make these spending decisions. Year after year we provide funding for ATP in appropriations bills, but we fail to provide the certainty in the program that an authorization will bring. Today we have a chance to do so.... Now I have heard claims that we cannot include ATP in this bill because the administration opposes it. Well, the administration opposed full funding for the Manufacturing Extension Partnership program, but this bill contains full funding for MEP. Congress overrode the administration when it was the right thing to do. Including ATP is the right thing to do, too. If the President has such a problem with it, he can make this bill his first veto."
REP. BOEHLERT: "We know that disputes over ATP are why this bill died in the Senate in the last Congress. We know that the administration adamantly opposes ATP and will block the progress of this bill if ATP is included.... [K]illing this bill over ATP would be especially irresponsible because the Congress will have other chances to save the ATP program. For starters, we will vote on appropriations for the program."