House Scheduled to Vote on COMPETES Bill Tomorrow

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Publication date: 
20 December 2010

Tomorrow  the House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on the latest version of H.R.  5116, the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010.   Although it was widely believed that the  legislative clock had run out on this bill, the Senate, in an unanticipated move,  took up and passed a new version of the COMPETES bill on Friday, and sent it  back to the House for final passage.

On  Friday, Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) rose and using language that reflects  long-standing Senate procedures, stated:

“Mr.  President [of the Senate], as if in legislative session and morning business, I  ask unanimous consent that the Commerce Committee be discharged from further  consideration of H.R. 5116 and the Senate proceed to its immediate  consideration.”

In  doing so, Bingaman initiated a procedure that only a few minutes later resulted  in Senate passage of the bill. 

The  only senator who spoke at length about H.R.5116 was Senator Scott Brown (R-MA)  who told his colleagues:

“I have heard from a broad coalition of  universities, businesses, and educators in my home state of Massachusetts about  the positive impact of the COMPETES Act on our economy. I have listened closely  to my constituents' concerns and have concluded that reauthorization of this  legislation is absolutely necessary to the long-term economic health of  Massachusetts and the United States as a whole.”

He  later added:

“Since  arriving in the Senate I have carefully scrutinized every bill with our  Nation's fiscal concerns in mind. The compromise struck in this reauthorization  recognizes the fiscal climate of today while still making meaningful  investments in our future. For example, the bill sunsets nine programs,  eliminates several other duplicative programs, and includes an authorization  level that is only half of the House's proposal.

“I  urge my colleagues in the House of Representatives to join in supporting  passage of the America COMPETES Act.”

Following  Brown’s remarks, Bingaman stood and said:

“Mr.  President, I ask unanimous consent that the Rockefeller-Hutchison substitute  amendment, which is at the desk, be agreed to, the bill, as amended, be read a  third time, and that a budget pay-go statement be read.”

The  Rockefeller-Hutchison substitute amendment is 18 pages long in Friday’s  Congressional Record, and rewrites substantial portions of the House-passed  version of H.R. 5116.  Senator Jay Rockefeller  (D-WV) is the chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation  Committee; Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) is the Ranking Member.  Both voted for the bill when the committee  approved it in July, with Hutchison stating that while she supported the bill,  she believed it authorized too much spending.   In written remarks that day,  Hutchison explained:

“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.”

The  Senate-passed version responds to Hutchison’s and some of her colleagues’ concerns.  The new language authorizes spending for  three years instead of five years as passed by the House, resulting in an  almost 50 percent reduction in authorized spending.  Where the 2007 law called for a doubling of  the budgets of the National Science Foundation, DOE Office of Science, and NIST  research programs in seven years, the Senate bill would accomplish this  objective in ten years.  The bill’s authorization  amounts for FY 2011, 2012, and 2013 are higher than the FY 2010 appropriations,  with increases, for instance, ranging between 5.1 percent and 7.0 percent for  the three agencies from FY2011 and FY2012.

This  rewriting of the bill worked in the Senate.   Using a legislative procedure that all senators must agree to, H.R. 5116  was passed using a unanimous consent agreement.   After reference to a Congressional Budget Office review of the  legislation, Bingaman stood and said:

“Mr.  President [of the Senate], I ask unanimous consent that the bill be passed, the  motion to reconsider be laid upon the table, with no intervening action or  debate, and any statements related to the bill be printed in the Record.”

The  Presiding Officer replied, “Without objection, it is so ordered,” and with  that, the bill was passed and sent back to the House which now must vote on the  Senate version of the bill.

Later  that day, House Science and Technology Committee Chairman Bart Gordon released  the following statement on the bill:

“The  Reauthorization passed [the science] committee on April 28 with bipartisan  support, it passed the House on May 26th with bipartisan support, and now, the  Senate has weighed in and approved it -- unanimously.      “While  there have been concessions made, the Senate’s amendments preserve the intent  of the Rising Above the Gathering Storm report and the original COMPETES. It  keeps our basic research agencies on a doubling path, it continues to invest in  high-risk, high-reward energy technology development, it will help improve STEM  education, and it will help unleash American innovation.      “I  am hopeful that this will come up before the House next week.  I urge my House colleagues to stand with the  business community, the academic community, the scientific community, and the  Senate to send a strong message that the U.S. must maintain its scientific and  economic leadership.      “I  cannot think of anything I would rather do as one of my final acts in Congress  than sending this bill, with strong bipartisan support, to the president’s  desk.”

H.R.  5116 is scheduled for House action tomorrow.