Selections from the Floor: House Consideration of COMPETES Legislation

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Publication date: 
21 May 2010

Last week’s House debate on H.R. 5116, the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010, stretched over two days.  Much of the discussion was about the funding levels authorized in this legislation for the DOE Office of Science, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the National Science Foundation.  Under this bill, funding levels would be authorized for the next five years to keep the agencies’ budgets on a projected track to double by 2017 (as compared to FY 2006.)  Actual funding is provided by the annual Energy and Water Development Appropriations Bill for the Office of Science and the Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Bill for NSF and NIST.

The following are selections from the floor debate on May 12 and 13 which lead up to the successful motion to recommit (return) the bill to the House Science and Technology Committee:

Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-FL):

“I understand and I support the underlying principles of the America COMPETES Act, prioritizing and strengthening investments in basic research and development and STEM: science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education. . . . as much as I would prefer to support the underlying legislation, I believe that at this time of severe budgetary constraints, the underlying legislation includes excessive spending levels.  The bill has an overall authorization of nearly $86 billion, which represents approximately $20 billion in new funding above the fiscal base of this year.  That is a significant increase when we’re facing record budget deficits. And that is after the so-called stimulus bill injected six billion additional dollars into the agencies funded by this bill.  The current national debt projections and the majority’s insatiable appetite for spending are unsustainable. And if we continue on that trajectory, the America that we know, love, and admire will be severely threatened. Our excessive spending threatens the very foundation of our economy and our way of life. We could very well find ourselves in a position, soon, similar to today’s Greece.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA):

“In this Congress, in addition to jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs, which is a four-letter word we use all the time, there are four words that describe our agenda. They are: science, science, science and science. Science to provide health care for all Americans. And in our health care bill that we passed and in the Recovery Act of last year, we have major investments in science and technology to make America healthier; science to keep America number one in innovation.  In the new technologies to protect the environment and the rest, we have to be competitive. Science and   technology will take us there; science to keep our air clean and our water clean for our children and the safety of the environment in which they live; and science to promote our national security by reducing our dependence on foreign oil and to advance the technologies to keep us preeminent in terms of our country’s defense.  This bill comes down to good-paying jobs for Americans, strong American leadership in the global economy and long-term growth for America’s workers and families.”

House Science and Technology Committee Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN):

“Many significant pieces of legislation come before this House. We all know that. But, honestly, I feel strongly that this bill is a big deal and it’s important.  It’s a big deal and important for our country and for this Congress. It’s a big deal and an important step in leading our Nation’s innovation agenda in the face of growing global competition.  It’s a big deal and important for the business community, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, and the Business Roundtable, which is why they have been so supportive. It’s a big deal and important to our universities and our national labs, and it’s a big deal and important to our children and grandchildren so they will not be the first generation of Americans to inherit a standard of living lower than their parents.”

House Science and Technology Committee Ranking Minority Member Ralph Hall (R-TX):

“I remain committed to the underlying goals of the America COMPETES Act. I like the thrust. I like the goals.  Most of us on our side of the docket did. We believe that we should continue to prioritize investments in basic research and science, technology, engineering, and  mathematics - the STEM - education. These long-term investments, coupled with policies that reduce tax burdens, streamline Federal regulations, and balance the Federal budget, are necessary steps for our Nation to remain competitive in the global marketplace.  However, the bill goes far beyond the original intent and scope of the COMPETES legislation. One of my primary concerns is the cost of the overall package. At $86 billion, it represents over $22 billion in new funding above the fiscal year 2010 basic level. Even if you consider the ten-year doubling path for the three agencies as opposed to flat funding, the bill is still almost $8 billion over that amount.  It is also important to note that these agencies received an additional $5 billion in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Given the current state of our national economy and the fact that our Nation’s budget deficit has increased 50 percent since the last authorization three years ago, we have to be mindful of our spending if America is to continue to compete globally.”

Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI):

“It strikes me as odd that we are ramping up funding for this act when the programs that it funds are only starting to be implemented. Without having the opportunity to perform proper oversight to know which programs are effective and which are not, it appears that we are simply here today to throw another $86 billion at the wall to see what sticks.  The legislation before us goes beyond basic research and development activities.  It creates several duplicative and unnecessary programs. Take, for example, the creation of the new Energy Innovation Hub program. The administration’s fiscal year 2011 budget included funding for a hub on batteries and energy storage; however, budget documents indicate that there are at least five other DOE programs which conduct similar energy storage R&D activities. Unfortunately, this is not the only example of a proposed hub that appears to duplicate existing R&D efforts.  Additionally, this legislation not only dramatically increases spending, but shifts the focus of the original America COMPETES Act of basic research to increased spending on later stage technology development and commercialization efforts. I do not believe that the government ought to be in the business of picking winners and losers; however, that is exactly what the provisions of this legislation attempt to do.”

Rep. Judy Biggert (R-IL):

“I rise in support of H.R. 5116, the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010. . . . As some have suggested, H.R. 5116 is not without flaws. I share the concerns my colleagues have about the creation of new programs and higher funding levels contained in the bill. Some of our concerns were addressed in [the House Science] committee, some were not. That said, I also urge my colleagues to keep in mind that this bill is, above all else, an investment in scientific advancement, with proven economic returns for many years to come.  At the heart of the COMPETES Act is the reauthorization of the Department of Energy’s Office of Science and the National Science Foundation, two programs that form the backbone of basic research and education in universities and laboratories across the country.  Their reauthorization is critical to America’s ability to maintain a technological and competitive edge over our European and Asian competitors in the global economy.  In particular, the Office of Science supports 40 percent of basic research in the United States and ensures that the U.S. retains its dominance in such key scientific fields as nanotechnology, materials science, biotechnology, and supercomputing – all areas in which emerging technology is laying the groundwork for a new generation of products and services.”

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA):

“The theoretical purpose of the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act is to enhance the Nation’s long-term economic competitiveness through investments in science and technology. I support this laudable goal, as I have for more than 21 years as a member of the Committee on Science and Technology, including 10 years in which I was a subcommittee chairman. But I cannot support this legislation which, simply put, authorizes too much funding in too many wrongheaded ways.  While I’m certain this bill was drafted with the best of intentions and motivations, I strongly disagree that this is in our Nation’s best interests. American investments in science and technology cannot operate in a vacuum. We need a broader strategy that prioritizes spending, reduces debt, eliminates deficits, and provides clarity, stability, and the appropriate regulatory environment.  Only this combined policy, with all of the difficult analysis and   hard choices that it entails, will allow America to maintain our technological edge. But this legislation makes no choices. It simply authorizes more and more spending. We cannot enhance our long-term competitiveness by mortgaging the future of our children and grandchildren.  That is precisely what this legislation does. The Congressional Budget Office says that implementing this legislation will cost $85 billion, a 32 percent increase over the FY 2010 baseline. This will clearly elevate the level of deficit spending for our country.”

On May 19, a revised bill came to the floor that reduced the authorization period from five years to three years.  The attempt to pass H.R. 5325 using an expedited procedure that required a two-thirds majority vote failed.  Selections from that day’s debate follow:

Ranking Member Hall:

“I rise today to speak on H.R. 5325, a [newly-introduced] bill reauthorizing the America COMPETES Act. I believe long-term investment in science and technology, coupled with policies that reduce tax burdens, streamline Federal regulations, and balance the Federal budget are very vital for our Nation to remain competitive in the global marketplace. However, we must also put our fiscal house in order to ensure that we're not leveraging the future of our children and our grandchildren.  While I remain committed to the underlying goals of the America COMPETES Act, the bill before us today continues to take us in a much more costly direction and authorizes a number of new programs which have little to do with prioritizing investments in basic science, technology, engineering, and math research and development.”

Rep. Ron Kind (D-WI):

“I would encourage my colleagues on the other side who may be playing this political gotcha game yet again today to stop. Stop playing this game and do the right thing and support this bill.  If you think that we ought to be prohibiting Federal dollars to be used for lobbying purposes, that's in the bill. So support it. If you believe that veterans should be full participants in all the programs being offered in the bill, including the STEM education programs, that's in the bill. If you believe that we should prohibit Federal funds from being used to pay the salaries of child molesters and rapists, that's already in the bill. And if you think we should fire any Federal employee who has been looking at pornography on their government computer, that's in this bill. So let's end the political gotcha games that delayed passage of this bill last week and do the right thing today.    I hope it's not something that's going to come up again on the floor today, because this is the right thing to do for the future of our economy. It's the right thing to do for the American people. Let's make sure that we remain the most innovative Nation in the world. That's what the America COMPETES Act does.   This should pass with wide bipartisan majorities, as the first authorization of this bill did a couple of years ago, with roughly 360 Members supporting it. We should support it again today. I urge its passage.”

Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-MI):

“I want to thank Chairman Gordon and Ranking Member Hall for all their hard work on this legislation. It is a complex bill. It has been from the start, beginning in 2006, when President George W. Bush developed the idea of the American Competitiveness Initiative, which launched a three-pronged approach by strengthening research at the NSF, the DOE, and NIST. We must continue that effort. . . .   It's not everything I wanted. None of us ever get everything we want. But at least we can move this bill over to the Senate. And at the very least, we can go into conference with the Senate and try to resolve the issues such as the veterans issue. I believe that we are in total agreement on what we want to achieve. I just encourage us to pass this bill, and get it into conference, where all the viewpoints can be heard and debated.  I hope my colleagues from both sides of the aisle will support the bill before us today. The National Association of Manufacturers supports it. All others who are involved in wealth generation through manufacturing support it. We absolutely have to restore our manufacturing sector. And the President we have now is trying to do that through the Department of Commerce and through the Manufacturing Council that he has appointed.  We have our work cut out for us, but I think we can come together and continue the work with the Senate and finally develop a really good bill we can all vote for.”

Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ):

“I rise in strong support of the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act. Our investments in scientific research and education underwrite our national prosperity and success. Yet for decades, we have underinvested in our Nation's tools for advancing innovation and competitiveness.  The America COMPETES Reauthorization Act will build on the successes of the original America COMPETES Act and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act by authorizing funding levels that will continue to double the budgets of our basic research agencies: NIST, NSF, DOE's Office of Science.   I would have preferred the stability of a five-year reauthorization, and some of my colleagues on the other side decided to play politics with science and have made that impossible. Still, the three years of investments authorized by this bill will pay big dividends as discoveries and innovations lead to new industries that will keep our Nation competitive.”

Ranking Member Hall:

“I just want to reiterate that Republican motion to recommit eliminated the new programs in the [first] bill. New programs in the bill shift an emphasis away from basic research towards technology commercialization activities that could potentially divert money away from basic research and could lead to inappropriate market innovation.  Keeping the [flat funding] language in the [first] bill would reduce authorization levels in the bill by $1.3 billion. The Republican motion to recommit kept all existing programs at fiscal year 2010 appropriated levels. Given that our Nation's debt is currently $13 trillion and our Nation's budget deficit has increased 50 percent in three years, it's prudent to put the brakes on significant increases in spending for years to come.   This [new version of the] bill is better than the bill was when it was introduced. It's not as good as the bill was when it left the [Science] committee that first considered it. It's not as good a bill as it was when they accepted and voted ‘yes’- Republicans and Democrats alike--on the motion to recommit.  So we've made some improvements. I'm not discouraged. I still like the thrust of the bill, and I look forward to working with the chairman [Rep. Gordon] from this day forward.”

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